Dodgers can't find magic, pushed to playoff brink
After a season filled with dramatic comebacks and game-breaking hits, almost everybody in Chavez Ravine expected to see more magic after the Los Angeles Dodgers fell behind early in Game 4 of the NL Championship Series.
Instead, the only fans who saw Magic had obstructed-view seats behind the Dodgers' 6-foot-9 owner.
Everybody else watched forlornly as their resilient team was pushed to the brink of playoff elimination, unable to do the improbable one more time.
After the Cardinals scored three runs in the third inning off Ricky Nolasco, St. Louis made the lead stand up all the way to a 4-2 victory Tuesday night, taking a commanding 3-1 series lead.
That's a hole the Dodgers have never escaped in their lengthy postseason history. The deficit is daunting, but hardly insurmountable to a team that has thrived in unlikely scenarios.
''We realize we've been through a lot in the regular season, but it pales in comparison to what we're doing now,'' said second baseman Mark Ellis, who went 0 for 4. ''We realize we have it in us to do this. It's a three-game win streak. That's all it is.''
But with every methodical inning in Game 4, the playoff-tested Cardinals prevented any sort of exciting surge in the Dodgers' first home loss in four postseason games.
The Dodgers had eight hits - two more than St. Louis - and generated a regular stream of baserunners, but two potential rallies were killed by inning-ending double plays. Another ended with the bases loaded when Nolasco struck out with the bat on his shoulder.
And even when Nick Punto delivered an unlikely double in the seventh inning to get the crowd stirring, the backup utilityman got picked off second base before Carlos Martinez even threw his next pitch.
''That's a lonely place to be,'' Punto said. ''I don't wish that on anybody, but I've got to move past that.''
Yasiel Puig had two hits and drove in a run, playing with fire after Cardinals starter Lance Lynn buzzed his chin with a pitch in the fourth. But not even the Dodgers' emotional barometer could lead a comeback.
With Andre Ethier on first base and nobody out in the ninth, Dodger Stadium was buzzing - but Puig grounded into a double play against closer Trevor Rosenthal, putting a pall over the stands.
''We didn't get enough runs on the board, because two is not enough,'' said Adrian Gonzalez, who had a hit and scored a run. ''(But) we've put together a lot better than a three-game winning streak before.''
Indeed, Los Angeles was 12 games below .500 on June 21 before a 42-8 surge festooned with hair-raising comebacks and narrow wins put the Dodgers back into the postseason in style.
The Dodgers might have to attempt this next comeback without Hanley Ramirez, who struck out three times before getting pulled with obvious pain in his cracked rib. Ramirez hasn't decided whether to play in Game 5 on Wednesday, but Punto or Michael Young could step in.
The Dodgers' offense didn't come through in Game 4, but Los Angeles also couldn't overcome the club's first mediocre starting pitching performance of the entire series. The Dodgers had allowed just four runs in the first 33 innings of this series before Nolasco gave up three more in the third.
Nolasco, the longtime Marlins right-hander, pitched just four innings in his first postseason appearance for his new team, giving up three hits and three runs. He wasn't terrible, but he also wasn't good enough in a run-starved series.
A few moments after Nolasco struck out and stranded three Dodgers runners, the Los Angeles-area native yielded the Cardinals' biggest burst of the entire series, including a 426-foot homer by Matt Holliday into the bullpen behind left field.
That was all the Cardinals needed to disappoint the movie stars and championship-starved fans who crowded into Dodger Stadium anticipating another Hollywood ending in this charmed season.
''You figure you're pumped up and ready for anything in a game, but one pitch (to Holliday) was the difference in the game,'' said Nolasco, who hadn't pitched since Sept. 29. ''We know the situation we're in, and we've just got to win out. Crazier things have happened.''
Dodgers manager Don Mattingly considered skipping Nolasco for Game 4 and moving up one of his two Cy Young Award-winning aces, as he did in the division series against Atlanta. Mattingly ultimately decided to keep Nolasco on the mound with Zack Greinke starting Game 5 on Wednesday and Clayton Kershaw in line for a potential Game 6 in St. Louis.
That pitching lineup gave solace to several Dodgers after Game 4 - along with the knowledge they'll get another crack at the Cardinals' starters behind Adam Wainwright.
''We're about to face three guys we've already faced,'' Gonzalez said. ''We can make adjustments, and we know what to do against them.''