Hyun-Jin Ryu rises to the occasion with a strong outing and helps Dodgers get back in the NLCS.
By MICHAEL MARTINEZFS West
LOS ANGELES – The first time, it was a case of nerves. The second time,
Hyun-Jin Ryu was determined to breathe new life into the
They were almost on the brink, one loss from seeing their season fall off a cliff. But Ryu – the kid from Korea with the doughboy body and the gifted left arm – brought them back.
Facing the St. Louis Cardinals' best pitcher and aware that his offense has been dormant through the best-of-7 National League Championship Series, Ryu pitched seven shutout innings to lift the Dodgers to a 3-0 win.
Suddenly, the Dodgers are alive. The Cardinals still lead the series 2-1, but the Dodgers can find comfort in the fact the next two will be in their home ballpark, where 53,940 provided a deafening backdrop to a game they had to have.
"You feel like you're back in the series," manager Don Mattingly said. "It gives your guys a little bit of confidence. I think the playoffs are one-day momentum swings; every day changes. Right now, I feel like we've kind of grabbed it."
If they did, it came on three fronts: from Ryu, from a rejuvenated offense that was helped by the return of Hanley Ramirez and from several Cardinals blunders.
St. Louis may have taken the first two games, but they were closely contested and essentially decided by the Dodgers' lack of clutch hitting. That wasn't the case in Game 3.
Where they've been consistent is their pitching. Zack Greinke and Clayton Kershaw were superb in their two starts, but the Dodgers still lost 3-2 in 13 innings and 1-0.
Ryu, whose first playoff start was a forgettable effort against the Atlanta Braves in the first round (three innings, four runs), recovered impressively. He gave up just three hits, walked one and didn't give up his first hit until the fifth.
The case of nerves he admitted having against the Braves was kept under control against the Cards.
"I think it's pretty obvious I lost control in the first three innings against Atlanta," Ryu said through a translator, "so I just turned around and focused in and tried not to let any runs in in the first couple of innings."
He did better than that. In fact, Ryu became only the fourth Dodgers pitcher to throw seven or more scoreless innings in the postseason and give up three hits or fewer and no runs. The others: Sandy Koufax, Don Drysdale and Orel Hershiser.
"He came out on a mission today, from the first batter, the first pitch of the game,” catcher A.J. Ellis said. "Hyun-Jin's a guy who likes to feel his way into the game, but that wasn't the case tonight. He was ready to go."
The Dodgers gave him just enough support, but it came with the help of a couple of defensive mistakes by the Cardinals.
In the fourth inning, the Dodgers ended a scoreless streak of 22 innings against St. Louis by scoring twice. Mark Ellis hit a leadoff double that should have been caught, but center fielder Jon Jay and right fielder Carlos Beltran – both thinking the other would catch the ball – let it drop untouched.
Adrian Gonzalez followed with a one-out double to drive in Ellis, then scored when Yasiel Puig, hitless in 11 at-bats in the series, lined a triple off the wall in right. Puig actually thought the ball was going out, lifting his arms in the air and beginning his home-run trot, but he was still able to reach third.
"With the struggles we've had with runners in scoring position, it gave us a little bit of a release there to relax and keep going," Gonzalez said of his RBI double. "For me, that was a big situation, and it was a great feeling to come through."
It was a relief to have Ramirez back in the lineup after he missed Game 2 with what was later diagnosed as a hairline fracture in his ribcage. Ramirez had two bloop singles and seemed to come out of the game OK.
In the fifth inning, A.J. Ellis drove a pitch to right-center that went off the glove of Jay, resulting in a triple. But the Dodgers left him there, a scary reminder of their horrible start in the first two games when they were 1 for 16 with runners in scoring position.
But Ryu didn't let them down, beating Cardinals ace Adam Wainwright, who allowed just two runs in seven innings.
"All I was thinking about was the fact we were down 2-0," Ryu said. "I told myself this could potentially be the last start I pitch here this year. So I focused from the very first pitch. I zoned in, and fortunately I was able to get a good result."
Ryu might have had his best fastball of the season, locating it well and hitting 95 miles an hour on occasion.
"He wasn't trying to pace himself or coast his way into the game," A.J. Ellis said. "He knew every out was important, every out was critical. He knew where we were at in the series. It's no secret this was definitely a must-win game for us."
And when Mattingly came to the mound in the seventh with a runner on first base and two outs, Ryu insisted he pitch to Matt Adams to get the final out of the inning. He struck out Adams on a 91-mph fastball.
"Hyun-Jin was adamant – I got him, I got this guy," Ellis recalled. "He emptied the tank right there, made some really smart pitches. I asked him to elevate that last fastball and he drilled his spot. That's probably one of the best heaters he's thrown all season."
And now the Dodgers are back in it, one game from evening up the series and forcing a return trip to St. Louis. They needed a win from Ryu, and he delivered.
In fact, they all did.
"We're a confident bunch," Mark Ellis said. "I don't think anyone was doubting ourselves in here. Obviously we've got a long way to go, but we're pretty confident."