HOUSTON -- With the series tied at one game apiece and with no guarantee that they will see Dodger Stadium again this season, the National League champs needed Yu Darvish to step up big time.
Instead, he stepped back, so far back that he ended up back in the clubhouse in the second inning of the biggest start of his career.
The high-powered attack of the Houston Astros was clicking early against Darvish, hammering drive after drive to spur on a hyper-energized crowd at Minute Maid Park. The Astros put up four runs before chasing Darvish after just 1⅔ innings and held on 5-3 to take a 2-to-1 lead in the World Series.
"What happened, happened," Darvish said, via a team interpreter. "I've just got to learn from it. It's not like I slacked. I was well prepared and they just got to me. I have to learn from it and get ready for next time."
There were a lot of ugly numbers coming from the Dodgers' side of the proceedings, but this one might be the ugliest for title-starved L.A. fans: The Game 3 winner of a best-of-seven World Series tied 1-1 has gone on to take the series 67.9 percent of the time.
The Dodgers have been in four such series and lost them all: 1941, 1949, 1974 and 1977.
"It's not frustrating or disappointing," utility player Enrique Hernandez said. "Those are not the right words, you know. You get into this spot, you've got to find a way to get out of it."
Before the game, the talk around Darvish was about his improved mechanics and his recent dominance -- a 0.88 ERA over his previous five outings, including late in the regular season. There was chatter about his good history at Minute Maid Park, where he had gone 4-1 with a 2.16 ERA. In his first start there in 2013, he came within one out of a perfect game, before Marwin Gonzalez singled.
None of that history matters now. All that matters is that in his first World Series start, in a tied series, one game after his team lost home-field advantage, Darvish put up one of the worst performances of his career.
"The fastball command wasn't there, and the slider was backing up," Dodgers manager Dave Roberts said. "So he just really didn't have the feel and couldn't get any type of rhythm going."
Darvish's game score was 26. In 136 career starts, including the postseason, he has had just four performances that were worse. Obviously the stakes in those four games weren't near what they were on Friday.
However, the stakes were pretty high in one of them. On July 26 of this season, in what many called an "audition outing" because Darvish was a hot name in trade deadline, he had his worst-ever performance against Miami, allowing 10 runs in 3⅔ innings. That game was on Darvish's mind after his disappointment on Friday.
"I had one of those games this year when I was with the Rangers, when I pitched against Miami," Darvish said. "It was just one of those days.
"But today, it's a playoff game and we can't lose any games."
Frankly, it wasn't a great result for a player who is heading into an offseason in which he's likely to be one of the most coveted free agents on the market. But all that is to come. For now, Darvish just wants to help his team win a championship. But he's going to have to rediscover the things that have made him so effective over the past few weeks.
"It looked like he was out of sorts based on how he's pitched in the last month," Astros manager A.J. Hinch said. "I think our discipline, our approach was very, very, very refined to just getting a good fastball to hit once we thought his slider and cutter weren't as effective."
Darvish's outing was almost uncanny in its ineffectiveness. In 49 pitches, he induced one swing and miss. Just 42.9 percent of his offerings were in the strike zone. When the Astros swung, 66.7 percent of the time they fouled pitches off to extend at-bats.
And when Houston put the ball in play off Darvish, it was devastating. According to Statcast, seven of Houston's 11 balls in play had an exit velocity of 99 mph or greater. The overall average was 88.5.
"I had a game plan going toward today's game," Darvish said. "My slider, to throw early and get ahead in the count. Their hitters had a lot of good at-bats."
To back up Hinch's observations, according to TruMedia, the horizontal break on Darvish's slider was 6.6 inches, about 1.5 inches below his average and one of his worst results all season. His fastball velocity was very good, touching 97 mph and a little above at times, but his command was poor. Was it possible that in the brightest of spotlights he was overthrowing?
"I don't think so," Darvish said in response to that area of inquiry.
The Dodgers had a poor overall game beyond Darvish's outing. They managed just four hits on the night. They went 0-for-7 with runners in scoring position, dropping them to 1-for-14 so far in the World Series.
Yasiel Puig was thrown out at second base on an ill-advised attempt to take an extra base. The Astros got their fifth run when Tony Watson threw away a ball at first base on Evan Gattis' little nubber off the mound.
Cody Bellinger became the first Dodger to strike out four times in a World Series game. He became the second-youngest to do so and that actually puts him in select company: The youngest was Mickey Mantle, against the Dodgers in 1953.
"We've played a lot better games," Bellinger said. "That was probably one of our not-great fundamental games. But we still had a chance to get a hit and tie the game or take the lead. We'll take that into tomorrow."
Yet, as Bellinger suggested, there is a silver lining in all of this. The Dodgers were very much in the game until the final out, mostly thanks to another sterling group effort by their bullpen, which held Houston to that lone unearned run after Darvish's departure.
The killer sequence for the Dodgers came in the third, when Houston starter Lance McCullers walked the bases full with no one out. Corey Seager hit a smash that spun around Astros first baseman Yuli Gurriel, but he made the stab and started a nifty 3-6-1 double play. A run scored, but the inning might have been much more explosive.
The Dodgers also got their first two runners on in the sixth and both scored, though one scored on a groundout and the other on a wild pitch. The Dodgers had just one RBI on their three runs, which speaks to their difficulty in scratching out a sustained attack.
"I still feel like we had a lot of chances to win the game," Bellinger said. "If we played more Dodger baseball, we win that game. It's a positive note that it was still that close and we played a really bad game."
Now, for the first time this season, the Dodgers are in a hole. This is a team that raced to a 91-36 start that built a buffer in the NL West race so large that even a stretch of 16 losses in 17 games created no drama. They swept the Arizona Diamondbacks in the NL Division Series. They took a 3-zip lead on the Chicago Cubs in the NL Championship Series before polishing them off in five.
The onus is now on lefty Alex Wood to keep the Dodgers from moving one game from elimination. Wood, an All-Star, is in a precarious spot given the uncertain nature of the No. 4 starter in postseason play. Basically, they just don't get to pitch that much, and Wood certainly hasn't.
"It's going to be big," Bellinger said. "We've got Woody going for us and he's been good. We've got to keep going to our approach and have good at-bats. We're a few pitches away from bringing this thing home again."
Wood has thrown just once since Sept. 26 -- a Game 4 loss to the Cubs on Oct. 18. Not only does he have to shake off the rust in a hurry, he needs to give his team a little length after a night when the bullpen had to take up the slack for Darvish, including Kenta Maeda, who went 2⅔ innings.
"Everyone tomorrow is available, outside of Kenta," Roberts said. "Alex is going to have to go deep. But, like I said, everyone is available, and we've got [Clayton Kershaw] going Game 5."
No one said winning a championship is like a movie. But if it were, you'd have to have a crisis. Without an obstacle to overcome, you have no drama. The Dodgers are in crisis mode now, and they are running out of time to produce a Hollywood ending.
"We had the bases loaded and nobody out, and just didn't get the big hit," Hernandez said. "Turned out they made a really nice double play to get out of the inning.
"The Dodgers have a lot left in the tank so the series is very far from over. We're going to come back from this."