LOS ANGELES – About the only thing the Dodgers can look forward to now is Wednesday afternoon.
Zack Greinke is pitching. If he can’t save them, their season is over.
It’s come down to that. All the momentum the Dodgers gathered Monday night slipped away Tuesday. They must win three games in a row, including two at St. Louis, or they’re finished.
“I don’t think we need to think about winning three,” manager Don Mattingly said. “We need to win one. That’s all we need to do is win one game.”
Shortstop Hanley Ramirez said he intends to play, but that’s debatable. After the Dodgers lost to the St. Louis Cardinals 4-2 to fall behind three games to one in the best-of-7 National League Championship Series, nothing is certain.
“Definitely,” Ramirez said about starting Game 5. “That’s why they decided to take me out of the game early, to get some treatment and be ready for tomorrow.”
But Ramirez still might not be ready, not with a hairline fracture in his left ribcage that makes it difficult to breathe, let alone swing a bat.
He was 0 for 3 Tuesday, striking out three times and not even bothering to swing at a called third strike in the fifth. He played through the sixth inning, but the Dodgers kept a close watch on him throughout the game and finally made the call.
“It felt worse today,” Ramirez said. “I was trying to compete and go out there, but by the fifth inning I couldn’t go anymore.”
How much pain did he endure just swinging the bat?
“A lot,” he answered. “A lot of pain.”
By the fifth inning, the Dodgers were in a 3-2 hole after starter Ricky Nolasco served up a two-run homer to Matt Holliday in the third that soared toward the back of the Dodgers bullpen in left field, an estimated 426 feet.
“The difference in the game was the Holliday homer,” said Nolasco, who hadn’t pitched since Sept. 29 and hadn’t started a game in almost three weeks. “It was a good pitch. He did a good job adjusting and pulling his hands through.”
Even so, it wasn’t really the definitive moment of the game. That came in the bottom half of the seventh, with the Dodgers trailing 4-2 and trying to regain their momentum in front of a noisy sellout of 53,992 at Dodger Stadium.
Nick Punto, who replaced Ramirez at short, led off with a double over the head of Cardinals center fielder Jon Jay. But before reliever Carlos Martinez threw the first pitch to Carl Crawford, he spun and picked off Punto, who was leaning too far in the hope he could advance to third on a pitch in the dirt.
“That was a lonely place to be,” Punto said. “It’s a lonely jog off the field.”
It was. The Dodgers had just one more baserunner the rest of the game, but that mistake doomed them.
“It was a bad baseball play,” a somber Punto conceded. “A little too aggressive there. (I was) trying to anticipate maybe something in the dirt, try to get to third with less than two outs. A big play in the game. It put us in a bad spot and we lost a little momentum.”
But there’s always Greinke, who pitched exceptionally well in the series opener, allowing two runs in eight innings and striking out 10. He was left with no decision, however, when the Dodgers lost 3-2 in 13 innings.
If he somehow keeps them alive, they’ve got Clayton Kershaw in a possible sixth game and Hyun-Jin Ryu if there’s a seventh.
“Kind of the best thought I have is that I’ve got one of the best pitchers in baseball pitching tomorrow (Wednesday),” Mattingly said. “If we come out here and play well and get a win, I’ve got probably the best pitcher in baseball pitching the next day.”
So there’s hope. But there’s also this: In their long and storied history, no Dodgers team has come back from a 3-1 postseason series deficit and won.