On the road to the Freeway World Series, the Dodgers exited one off-ramp too soon. For the second straight year, they lost the National League Championship to the Phillies, four games to one. Déjà vu all over again.

Because my deadline was before yesterday’s game, I’m guessing the Angels will have done the same. It’s technically possible that they could win three straight over the powerhouse Yankees. It’s also technically possible that I could win a Pulitzer Prize for this column.

Many of us who were at the first Dodger game at the Coliseum (including my mailman friend, Richard) have waited 47 long years for a Freeway Series. And this was the closest we’d ever gotten. We may have to wait another 47 years, in which case, and I hate to break it to Rich, we’re going to be really, really old.

But we’re still better off than the Cubs, who haven’t won a World Series in 101 years. The last time they did Teddy Roosevelt was president! Who knows, in the 1908 World Series the Rough Riders might have thrown out the first ball?

Much like life, but for a tiny break here or there, and the outcomes could have been totally different. In the extra inning game they lost, the Angels could have easily won. Of course, as the expression goes, if my aunt had a certain something then she’d be my uncle. (This being a family paper, I avoided exact wording.)

The Dodger loss in game four against the Phillies was among the most painful ever. L.A. was up one run in the ninth with closer, Jonathon Broxton, on the mound. We were one out from leveling the series at two games. Hope abounded. Until Jimmy Rollins hit a bases emptying double and my dream of a Freeway Series went up in the smoke from my ears. I was so depressed that I couldn’t finish dinner. (A foodie, I could be dying and I think I’d finish dinner.)

This year was almost as bad as 1985. (Who me, hold on to bitter memories?) It was game five of the Dodgers-Cardinals NLCS. The score was 2-2 with reliever Tom Niedenfeur pitching. (I never liked his last name, especially the “feur” part.)

Ozzie Smith had only 13 home runs in eight seasons. But somehow Niedenfeur turned him into Babe Ruth as Ozzie hit a home run to right to end the game. Two days later, Niedenfeur served one up to Jack Clark. Game, set, match. I couldn’t eat dinner that night, either. You’d think being a die-hard Dodger fan all these years I’d at least be thin.

But, in the Division Series this year against the Cardinals, lady luck was on our side. Forget the last out, the Dodgers were down to their last strike. But Cardinal left fielder, mega-millionaire Matt Holliday, dropped a routine fly ball, something he wouldn’t do once in a hundred times.

The entire city of St. Louis probably got sick to their collective stomachs, a la the Balloon Boy. I celebrated the win like it was July 4th and New Year’s Eve rolled into one. But now, under “misery loves company,” I can empathize with the sad citizens of St. Louis. Actually they have it much worse. They’ve also got the Rams. At least we have the Lakers.

I am trying to be philosophic about the Dodger disaster but it’s not easy. I remind myself of all the thrills this season, and the heart it took to have gotten this far. And then a voice in my head pipes up, yeah, but they were so close to the whole enchilada. (Suddenly giving the World Series a Mexican flavor.) But they really weren’t.

Even before spring training I was uneasy. They let 200-inning-a-season Derek Lowe go and signed journeyman Randy Wolf. (Meanwhile, Wolf had a spectacular year.) Then Manny was caught juicing, (I don’t mean orange) missed 50 games and never seemed the same.

Speaking of “never seemed the same,” what happened to Billingsley? (And whatever it is, somebody please fix it before next season.) Only 25, Billingsley started out the year as the ace of the staff and finished it just a notch above the bat boy.

But, as my late father used to say, “There’s always next year.” Ethier, Kemp, Martin, Loney, Kershaw and Billingsley may not be Garvey, Cey, Russell, Lopes, Fernando and Orel, but they’re the closest we’ve had in ages (back to back Division Championships for the first time since ‘77 and ‘78).

In my father’s tradition, I’m hoping next year we’ll have a lot to look forward to. (And I’m not referring to the McCourt’s already nasty divorce.) But, in my current, gloomy mood from the Dodger defeat, all I can say is TGFK (Thank God For Kobe).

In between whining about the Dodgers, JACK can be reached at Jackneworth@yahoo.com.

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