David Lennon is an award-winning columnist and author who has been a staff writer at Newsday since 1991.
The champagne, no NLCS. Not yet. And now with Zack Greinke waiting in Thursday's Game 5 at Chavez Ravine, maybe not ever.
The Mets didn't have to sweat elimination Tuesday night at Citi Field. That was the Dodgers' problem, until Clayton Kershaw made sure it wasn't, securing a 3-1 victory that only Daniel Murphy's home run was able to dent.
By beating Kershaw in Game 1, the Mets made us believe it was possible, if not expected, again in a potential Game 4 clincher. But Kershaw owns three of the last four Cy Young awards for a reason, and as David Wright explained afterward, he was better this time.See alsoBoxscore: Mets vs. Dodgers NLDS Game 4
Better because Kershaw possessed a functioning curveball, and that was all the difference. When the Mets weren't striking out eight times, they were making weak contact, and never put a runner in scoring position against Kershaw.
"You go up there thinking fastball-slider, and he throws you a curveball?" Wright said. "Good luck next time."
The Mets get another shot at earning an NLCS date with the famously cursed Cubs. But they missed a unique opportunity at Citi Field.
Just as they did Monday, during the Utley hate-fest, the fans got on the Dodgers early. When second baseman Howie Kendrick first came to the plate, they brought back the "We Want Ut-ley" chants from Monday. During the Mets' first inning, the crowd bellowed, "Keeer-SHAW, Keeer-SHAW."
The anticipation was there, the hope for a history-turning moment that Citi has yet to witness. Despite the brimming confidence after Monday's 13-7 rout, the Mets couldn't sustain that momentum, and it shouldn't have been all that surprising. Kershaw isn't Brett Anderson, and Steven Matz isn't Jacob deGrom, so what the Mets got instead was more of what the first two games were like. The tightly pitched, zero-margin, whoever-blinks-first contest that can bounce either way.
Facing elimination, the Dodgers called Kershaw back on short rest to save their season. When Don Mattingly was asked to describe what went into the decision, as most managers are with those quick turnarounds, his only response was, "Do I really have to explain it?"
Of course not. Coming into this series, the Mets understood what they had to get through. The objective was the first to three wins, and if it went five, that meant battling Kershaw and Zack Greinke two times apiece.
Which is why Tuesday night had such a feeling of urgency. You could say the Mets had a safety net. But with Greinke on tap for a Game 5 back at Dodger Stadium, and another 3,000-mile trip to the brink, that was not in the Mets' best interests.
They just couldn't solve Kershaw, who didn't surrender his first hit until one out in the fourth inning, when Murphy drilled his second homer of the series over the rightfield wall. Murphy had hit only one homer off a lefthanded pitcher during the regular season. In this series, in two games against Kershaw, he somehow took him deep twice.
"You always think there's a chance," Murphy said. "You're never going to stop playing. We just didn't give ourselves a lot of chances tonight."
Murphy's deep drive put a charge into the Citi crowd, which had been restless to that point, and desperate for any reason to erupt. When the Mets had closer Kenley Jansen on the ropes in the eighth inning, however, Murphy just missed a 3-and-2 cutter, flying out to rightfield and stranding two.
Before that pitch, the "Let's go, Mets!" had risen to a thunderous level again. The Mets were that close. They were one swing away from silencing the Dodgers. And they might not get that close again.
"I wish we could have won it here," Wright said.
That last win, however, is always the hardest to get. And the alternative is not something the Mets want to even consider.