LOS ANGELES — If the Dodgers have relied on anything during their improbable run from last place to first, it’s been their pitching.
Occasionally, they slip up.
Hyun-Jin Ryu didn’t much look like a rookie-of-the-year candidate in the first inning Saturday against the Boston Red Sox. But from the second through the fifth, when he left the game for a pinch hitter, he was the old Ryu.
The left-hander may have recovered, but the Dodgers didn’t. They missed a few scoring chances, were just 1 for 6 with runners in scoring position and finally succumbed to the Red Sox 4-2 at Dodger Stadium.
It rates as big news when they lose. The defeat ended a four-game winning streak, but they’re still 19-4 in August, 29-6 since the All-Star break and 46-11 since June 22.
They have split two games with the Red Sox in what is a possible World Series preview, with Sunday afternoon’s rubber match still to come.
Ryu, who pitched seven seasons in the Korean Baseball Organization before signing with the Dodgers last winter, endured a wobbly first inning that culminated in a three-run homer by Jonny Gomes. Down 4-0, the Dodgers never quite came back against Boston starter Jon Lester and three relievers.
The Dodgers came into the game having thrown 26 scoreless innings, and Ryu was 6-1 at home with a 1.78 ERA. But he has struggled early on occasion, including his start last Monday at Miami when he allowed three third-inning runs. The start before that, he yielded a first-inning run to the New York Mets but still won.
“I don’t think it’s an issue of warming up,” Ryu said through a translator. “I’m always warmed up by the first pitch. Coincidentally, it’s just seems that as the game goes on my body is more relaxed.”
Ryu retired 14 of the next 16 batters he faced, but manager Don Mattingly opted to lift him for a pinch hitter in the bottom of the fifth, hoping to get a runner on base for Yasiel Puig, who batted leadoff. Ryu had already thrown 89 pitches.
“This guy knows how to pitch,” Mattingly said of Ryu (12-5), who lost consecutive starts for the first time. “This guy knows how to hang into a game. At the same time, his stuff’s not really sharp, but he knows how to pitch. He changes speeds and gets a double play ball or get out of the inning. He really knows what he’s doing.”
The same could not be said for Puig, whose base-running gaffe in the sixth may have prevented the Dodgers from cutting into the Red Sox’s lead sooner.
Puig, who led off the sixth with a single, was doubled off first base when Mark Ellis hit a fly ball to shallow right that was caught by Shane Victorino. Puig was an easy out, and the Dodgers went down.
“It’s more of a miscommunication than anything,” Mattingly said. Asked specifically what that meant, he answered, “It doesn’t matter. It was something we didn’t want to be doing there. We’re down by four runs. We don’t really want to do that.”
Actually, Puig said he was attempting to steal, hardly the best strategy at that point for a team losing by four runs.
“It wasn’t really anything,” Puig said through a translator. “I was just trying to steal a base.”
The Dodgers still pared Boston’s lead in half when Adrian Gonzalez hit a two-run double in the eighth, but they stranded two runners when A.J. Ellis struck out.
Gonzalez’s two RBI gave him 80 this season and marked the eighth consecutive season he has driven in that many. But that wasn’t much consolation.
As Mattingly said before the game, “I think these guys believe we’re going to win every day.”
When they don’t, it’s a mild surprise.
“You can’t win all the games,” Puig said. “We always think it’s possible, but we can’t.”