LOS ANGELES -- Don Mattingly, his hair mussed up, his blue undershirt soaked with sweat, walked down the hall that leads from his office to the Los Angeles Dodgers clubhouse, saw the team's principal owner, Mark Walter, leaning against a wall and embraced him in a big hug.
It was hard to know if it was a consolation hug or a goodbye.
For the third straight year, the lavishly paid Dodgers fell short of their World Series goal, this time beaten by a strong-armed young New York Mets team, which wrapped up the National League Division Series with a 3-2 win Thursday night in Game 5. The Dodgers aided the Mets with a fielding miscue -- nobody covered third base on a walk, of all things -- and with a night's worth of frustrating at-bats in the clutch.
At least that's the assumption most people have because of the team's record payroll, north of $300 million, and the fact that, one year ago, the team moved general manager Ned Colletti off to an advisory role and hired Andrew Friedman away from the Tampa Bay Rays to run baseball operations.
Many people think Mattingly is in the most vulnerable position this time around. Friedman and his group have made major changes to the team behind the scenes and might have a ready-made dugout replacement for Mattingly in farm director Gabe Kapler or third-base coach Ron Roenicke.
Walter admitted he was "very disappointed" with the outcome of the series. He pointed to the fact the team has won three straight division titles under Mattingly but hadn't yet reached a World Series. He lamented "a couple of stupid plays," that cost the Dodgers in Game 5.
Walter said Mattingly's fate would be decided by Friedman, general manager Farhan Zaidi and the rest of the front office rather than by the ownership group.
"Absolutely," he said. "That's their job. You can't hire guys like that and then make their decisions for them. Well, you can, but it's not very smart."
So, while Friedman & Co. deliberate -- he didn't immediately return a message seeking comment on Mattingly's status -- the Dodgers and their fans face a third straight winter wondering why they can't advance in the postseason. It certainly doesn't help to make critical mistakes. Murphy was smart enough to recognize nobody was covering third base after Lucas Duda's fourth-inning walk and took third uncontested. He scored on Travis d'Arnaud's sacrifice fly in foul ground.
After the game, the Dodgers still didn't quite know who blew that play. Some players thought it was the pitcher or catcher's responsibility to cover third. Mattingly thought rookie shortstop Corey Seager should have gotten to the bag. Adrian Gonzalez said the fact the Dodgers were shifting against Duda -- with third baseman Justin Turner to the right of second base -- left them vulnerable to the steal.
There will be those who say the Dodgers didn't go down as a united front. That, however, might be a rash conclusion. Mattingly and Ethier got into a dugout argument that was caught on camera in the third inning, but it was sparked by Mattingly trying to keep Ethier from getting ejected for arguing with plate umpire Gary Cederstrom on an earlier pitch.
Both the manager and player said it was nothing more than raised hackles in the heat of competition.
If it were up to the players, Mattingly probably would be back, but of course, it isn't.
"I think he did a great job," said reliever J.P. Howell. "He handled the clubhouse and there were a lot of different situations that went down that he had to tackle that didn't necessarily get out on the public. Here, it's just one of those situations where we had such expectations, we didn't get to the World Series, so it's a fail. That's a tough thing to put on him."
Mattingly was in no mood to discuss his own fate after watching his team bow out of the postseason again, but he admitted the disappointment becomes no easier to swallow.
"There are really no words to describe how you feel right now," Mattingly said. "You come to spring training, you work all winter, you scratch, you fight all year long to get into this situation and you have a chance. It comes to a crash."
The Dodgers felt as if they were on the verge of knocking the Mets' hard-throwing young starter, Jacob deGrom, out of the game in the first two innings, but deGrom regrouped to get two key strikeouts in the second inning and managed to pitch six frames. After scoring two runs in the first, the Dodgers went 0-for-11 off deGrom with runners in scoring position. The Dodgers could put up nothing but zeroes inning after inning, from the second through the ninth, as Mets closer Jeurys Familia blew them away. The Mets tied it after Murphy's base-running bravado and won it on his sixth-inning home run.
"It's not like we didn't have chances. We had every chance in the world," Enrique Hernandez said. "To only score two runs tonight was pretty frustrating."
Even if Mattingly somehow survives to manage next season, the final year of his contract, the Dodgers will be a radically different team in 2016. Greinke, who pitched 6 2/3 strong innings, but took the loss, probably will depart via free agency. He can opt out of his contract, is in line for a massive raise and the Dodgers, under Friedman's group, aren't likely to give a 32-year old who has thrown more than 2,000 innings a nine-figure contract.
Greinke didn't want to go too deeply into his future, saying it would be "nice," to be back and calling the Dodgers "the best franchise in the game."
Howie Kendrick, Jimmy Rollins, Chase Utley, Brett Anderson and reliever Joel Peralta also could depart via free agency. Catcher A.J. Ellis will be on the bubble when the Dodgers are tendering contracts in November since he will be a 34-year-old backup and is likely to get a raise on his $4.25 million salary when he hits arbitration.
That's all for another day. The next five months will be about sorting out the Opening Day roster and here they were hoping the next two days would be about sorting out the National League Championship Series roster.