June 21, 2024

The Dodgers had confidence, spending the last week extolling their clubhouse culture, roster chemistry and ability to overcome obstacles and adversity in a 100-win regular season.

They had an atmosphere, a sold-out Chavez Ravine revved up after an electric pregame anthem performance and fighter jet flyover.

Most of all, they had a plan: Give the ball to Clayton Kershaw, back him up with a deep bullpen and try to strike for a quick win in Game 1 of the National League Division Series.

The only problem: The Arizona Diamondbacks swiftly, ruthlessly and stunningly socked them in the mouth.

Kershaw gave up six runs while recording just one out in the first inning, a disastrous frame complete with a dropped fly ball, squandered two-strike at-bats, and a towering three-run homer (and accompanying bat flip) from Diamondbacks catcher Gabriel Moreno.

Rookie right-hander Emmet Sheehan yielded three more runs in the second, leaving Dodger Stadium silent save for Arizona’s family section.

And by the time the night was over, the Dodgers faced a 1-0 series hole that felt like much more, their 11-2 loss marking the franchise’s most lopsided postseason defeat ever at Dodger Stadium.

Dodgers pitcher Clayton Kershaw sits by himself in the dugout after being pulled from the game.

Dodgers pitcher Clayton Kershaw sits by himself in the dugout after being pulled from the game in the first inning.

(Robert Gauthier / Los Angeles Times)

“This is a tough one,” manager Dave Roberts said in a TBS television interview at the start of the third, stumbling over his words like a dazed boxer in the corner of the ring. “I didn’t expect to be in this situation.”

No one in Dodger blue did.

In the days leading up to their postseason opener, the team struck a defiant tone about their regular-season performance and championship aspirations — embracing their role as a relative dark horse amid doubts about their October pitching plans.

“It is different, in the sense that you didn’t hear the ‘World Series or bust’ from the outside as much, if at all,” Roberts said Friday, on the eve of Game 1. “But I still believe internally, we felt that that’s still our goal. That didn’t change.”

Any chances of them starting on the right foot, however, were dashed almost from the start.

On the second pitch of the game, Ketel Marte lined a 116-mph line drive that befuddled center fielder James Outman. Initially, the rookie broke in on the ball as it sailed into the gap. Then, he suddenly shifted direction and began to drift back.

By the time the drive arrived, Outman had no choice but to try and jump for a last-second catch. The ball clanged off the heel of his mitt, then eluded a desperate lunge from his other hand, dropping for a double that set the calamitous inning in motion.

What unfolded next occurred in a flash. Diamondbacks rookie sensation Corbin Carroll smoked an RBI single to center. Tommy Pham followed with another hit.

Longtime Kershaw nemesis Christian Walker then got the better of the 35-year-old left-hander again, fouling off a couple two-strike pitches before lining an RBI double over David Peralta’s head in left.

Moreno supplied the backbreaker moments later. Like Walker, he stayed alive in a two-strike at-bat, laying off three breaking balls in the dirt. Then, in a full-count, Kershaw threw a belt-high slider that the Arizona catcher clobbered 419 feet.

Five batters. Five runs. No outs.

A groundout from Lourdes Gurriel Jr. offered temporary reprieve — as well as the only out of what was the shortest start of Kershaw’s career. Because, after an Alek Thomas walk (again with two strikes) and Evan Longoria RBI double made it 6-0, Roberts was climbing the dugout stairs, going to pull Kershaw from a nightmare happening in real life.

The teams played out the final eight innings. But with the Dodgers failing to score until a two-run triple by Will Smith in the eighth — when the Diamondbacks had already stretched their lead to 11-0 — it was nothing more than a formality.

Mookie Betts reacts after striking out in the first inning against the Diamondbacks on Saturday.

Mookie Betts reacts after striking out in the first inning against the Diamondbacks on Saturday.

(Robert Gauthier / Los Angeles Times)

Game 2 will be back at Dodger Stadium on Monday night at 6:07 p.m. PT.

And, after their historically bad series-opener, they’ll have to search hard to find any shred of optimism.

A few silver linings: Playoff series aren’t decided on aggregate score. The Dodgers will have an atypical off-day between Games 1 and 2 to regroup. And the club hasn’t lost consecutive games in more than a month.

Outside of that, the Dodgers situation looks grim — especially with Arizona ace Zac Gallen in line to start Game 2 and Game 5, and Saturday’s starter Merrill Kelly (who snapped his 0-11 career mark against the Dodgers with 6⅓ scoreless innings Saturday) available to return in Game 4.

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