The Mets knew better than to think it would be easy. Yes, they had enjoyed another emotional high in a season filled with them, pushing the Dodgers to the brink of elimination.
But finishing the job in the National League Division Series required scaling one more daunting summit -- beating either Clayton Kershaw in Game 4 or Zack Greinke in Game 5. Now, they face the latter.
The Mets hoped that the great Kershaw might pitch to the narrative, the one that has focused less on the Cy Young Awards he has collected, and more on his streak of five postseason defeats. Maybe that would provide enough of an opening Tuesday night for Long Island's Steven Matz to steal the spotlight.
Kershaw's brilliance would not allow it, not again, not in a 3-1 loss that sent the Mets back to Los Angeles. There, Jacob deGrom opposes Greinke in a Game 5 showdown Thursday to determine who will face the Cubs for the pennant.
With Kershaw out of the game, the Mets rallied in the eighth, with Curtis Granderson and David Wright working walks ahead of Daniel Murphy. But closer Kenley Jansen squashed the rally. Murphy's flyout sucked the life out of a crowd that had come alive.
Matz allowed three runs and five hits in his five innings. He essentially gave the Mets all they could have reasonably expected. His seventh big-league start came after a back injury had kept him from pitching in an actual game since Sept. 24.
The only damage came in the third inning, when Justin Turner, the former Met turned Mets killer, rocketed a two-run double to left. Matz did not let up anything more. Against Kershaw, it wasn't enough.
During his five-game playoff skid, Kershaw had a 6.44 ERA. The Mets contributed to that in Game 1, when they chased him in the seventh. His Game 4 outing came on short rest.
Perhaps, the fans at a raucous Citi Field had taken on some of the confidence that has grown in the Mets' clubhouse. The hubris proved contagious. The crowd of 44,183 was no doubt aware of Kershaw's October history when they goaded him.
Chants of "KER-SHAW! KER-SHAW! KER-SHAW'' broke out in the first inning. They got louder after a pair of close, check-swing calls went the way of Murphy, leaving Kershaw fuming.
He'd seldom look challenged again. Murphy hammered a solo shot off Kershaw in the fourth, briefly re-energizing the throng. But the rest of his night was spent playing puppet master, offering faint glimmers of hope before wiping them away with his sweeping curveball.
Kershaw departed after 94 pitches to the sighs of relief from the same fans that had chided him. Against a lineup that had set a club record with 13 runs in a playoff game, he struck out eight and allowed only three hits.
Matz, the 24-year-old Ward Melville product, had at least given the Mets a chance. His climb up the minor leagues featured tests of mettle. In 2013, he pitched Low-A Savannah to the South Atlantic League title. In 2014, he did the same in the title game for Double-A Binghamton in the Eastern League.
Had the Mets faced elimination, they could have gone with Jacob deGrom on short rest. The assignment fell to Matz, a lifelong Mets fan, who paid dearly for one mistake.
In the third, Enrique Hernandez reached on a fielder's choice and Howie Kendrick grounded a single past a diving Wilmer Flores at shortstop. Adrian Gonzalez blooped a run-scoring single ahead of Turner.
Matz flipped a curve that Turner ripped to left, scoring two for a 3-0 lead. Turner, non-tendered by the Mets after the 2013 season, is one of the main reasons that deGrom will face Greinke in Game 5. Turner is 7-for-15 (.467) in the NLDS.