LOS ANGELES — For Game 3, it will be the Dodgers’ turn to count on their rookies.
After the Cardinals rode their rookie pitchers to a 1-0 victory on Saturday, they will send out veteran ace Adam Wainwright against a depleted Dodgers lineup. The Dodgers, meanwhile, will counter with rookie left-hander Hyun-Jin Ryu, a 26-year-old sinkerballer who put up slightly better regular-season numbers than Cardinals rookie Shelby Miller.
Miller led major league rookies with 15 wins, to go with nine losses, while Ryu went 14-8. Ryu pitched more innings (192 to 172 1/3) and posted a slightly better ERA (3.00 to 3.06). The South Korean dominated in his lone start against the Cardinals at Busch Stadium on Aug. 8. He gave up five hits and an unearned run, struck out seven and walked none over seven innings of a 5-1 victory.
That win came in the midst of the Dodgers’ remarkable 42-8 run when Hollywood was happy and no team was playing better. The circumstances will be very different Monday night at Dodger Stadium.
Ryu will be pitching with the Dodgers’ season on the line. With the Cardinals already up 2-0 in the NL Championship Series, another LA loss would put the Dodgers in a hole only one team in history — the 2004 Red Sox — has overcome.
“There’s always additional pressure when you come back home down 2‑0,” Ryu said at a press conference Sunday. “I think all of us understand that. We are professionals.”
Ryu did not handle the pressure of pitching in the postseason in his Game 3 start in the NL Division Series. Pitching at home following a split of two games in Atlanta, Ryu gave up four runs on six hits and was lifted after three innings, his shortest outing of the season. This was against a team that, like the Cardinals, did not hit well against left-handers.
Dodgers manager Don Mattingly said Ryu didn’t look comfortable on the mound.
“I was a bit nervous,” Ryu admitted. “Although I do believe being completely nerve‑free is a bad thing as a competitor. So it’s finding a good balance between how anxious and how nervous I have to be (Monday).”
Ryu made an interesting point about his Game 3 goal. He’s more concerned about quality than quantity.
“Truthfully, if I’m out there for five innings, I’d be more than happy,” he said. “I believe that in the postseason pitching long into games is not as important as making quality pitches from the very beginning. I’m not going to focus too much on the length of my outing.”
Ryu won’t be the only rookie the Dodgers will be counting on. With Hanley Ramirez (ribs) and Andre Ethier (ankle) at considerably less than 100 percent and not even certain to be in the lineup, rookie right fielder Yasiel Puig needs to step up for the offense. He is 0 for 10 with six strikeouts, including four in four at-bats in Game 2.
While Mattingly has credited the Cardinals for keeping Puig off-balance at the plate with their pitch selection, his counterpart in right field has another explanation for Puig’s problems. Carlos Beltran says the young Cuban is trying too hard.
“You have to stay within yourself and try to find a way to get a hit,” Beltran said. “Don’t try to hit the homer. Just get a hit.”
Though Puig is known for his hard-headedness, he should listen to the veteran. Beltran has put together one of the most impressive postseason resumes in history by managing to stay relaxed at all times. Beltran says he doesn’t play with a 100 percent effort level because that would lead him to playing out of control. At 80 percent, he can slow down the moment and remain cool in the most heated situations.
When I mentioned to Beltran that Puig was not following the 80 percent rule, he smiled.
“No, like 110 percent,” he said. “I will let him know that (pause) after the series.”
If the Dodgers’ rookies don’t deliver Monday night, this series very likely will be all but over.
You can follow Stan McNeal on Twitter at @stanmcneal or email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.