After losing game two of the National League Championship series, the Los Angeles Dodgers were having déjà vu, but it was not the nostalgic kind. Matt Kemp is out for the season, Hanley Ramirez broke a rib after being hit by a 96 mph fastball and Andre Ethier looks as rusty as he’s ever been after missing extended time with an injury.
To top things off, the Dodgers had just lost the advantage of their trump card. After losing games one and two in which Zack Greinke and Clayton Kershaw pitched, L.A.’s greatest strength was nullified. L.A. couldn’t get across the key run in game one, wasting valuable scoring opportunities and losing in extra innings. The Dodger bats got even colder in game two, with the team failing to score a run and losing a great Kershaw start on a sacrifice fly. Yasiel Puig was hitless through the first two games, and Ramirez never got the chance to hit in a key situation with the Cardinals constantly pitching around him.
On the bright side, Carl Crawford has been enjoying a power surge, accounting for the only two runs in game one for the Dodgers. It just wasn’t enough to overcome a deep and fundamentally sound St. Louis team. Ethier missed a ball in centerfield that was enough to nullify Greinke’s excellence and send the game to extras, and the Redbird crowd was ridculously loud in extra innings. Despite seeing the potential that got Los Angeles to the NLCS in the first place, it was St. Louis that kept doing the little things necessary to win the close games.
With Hyu-Jin Ryu going against St. Louis Cardinals’ ace Adam Wainwright, things were looking grim for the team that was favored to win the World Series weeks ago.
Just to be clear, Ryu is no slouch. The South Korean native finished the regular season with 14 wins and a 3.00 ERA — impressive numbers that warrant Rookie of the Year considerations. However, Ryu was less than stellar in his first career postseason start, allowing six hits and four runs in three innings. Whether it was nerves or another injury that plagued Ryu, he did not look like himself.
After getting swept in the first phase of games in St. Louis, L.A. rebounded in a big way upon their return to Chavez Ravine. Ryu pitched like the master control specialist we all knew he could be. His changeup was on point, painting the corners of the strike zone for seven flawless innings, and the Dodgers won 3-0 on Puig, Gonzales and Ramirez’s RBIs. The Dodgers got their clutch hits when they mattered, and the defense backed up Ryu for the shutout.
At press time, the Los Angeles Dodgers face a 3-1 deficit against the St. Louis Cardinals in the National League Championship Series with revitalized hope. Ryu’s reemergence assures that the Dodgers will get one more shot to throw an ace on the table, with Greinke slated to go in game five. One win in two games at home will give the ball back to Kershaw for game six.
After a tremendous performance that ultimately resulted in a loss, Kershaw has his eyes set on nothing short of a perfect game in his next start, should it come about. That might be aiming high for any other pitcher in baseball, but not Kershaw’s. The numbers speak for themselves. An ERA of 1.83 puts Kershaw’s name up among the ranks of Walter Johnson, Christy Mathewson, Bob Gibson and the ‘first coming’ of Kershaw, an old Dodger named Sandy Koufax. He has allowed less than one baserunner an inning, and every start in which the Dodgers do not win when he’s on the mound is considered a failure.
The Dodgers went 42-8 over a 50-game stretch that began in June when the team was in last place. It started with the return of Ramirez from injury and the 10,000-watt jumpstart known as Puig. And so was the story when L.A. won game three on Monday. The parallelism is eerily similar.
Call me optimistic, but I’m expecting something special. The team can take notes and watch video of the different stretches in the season to see what they did right and what they did wrong. And manager Don Mattingly will keep the atmosphere calm, collected and focused. The Dodgers are at their best when their hitters don’t try to do too much, get on base instead of swing for the fences and trust their teammates.
Ricky Nolasco couldn’t hold his own on Tuesday night against Lance Lynn, but the Dodgers will be in prime position to pull off a three game upset with Greinke going at home in game five and Kershaw in a position to potentially pull even the series back in St. Louis.
Of course, this is entirely skeptical. The Dodgers are still down and need to continue to figure out ways to win. In the first two games of the series, L.A. made mistakes and did not capitalize with runners in scoring position. But St. Louis made fielding mistakes in game three that prove they aren’t perfect. Make no mistake about it; the Dodgers will go as far as their pitching takes them. The offense is hit or miss, no pun intended, with all the injuries up and down the lineup.
But L.A. has been in this position before. The situation following game two is too similar to where the team saw themselves in June. They overcame injuries and missed opportunities before, and now they know exactly how to do it again. The Cardinals are known to play mistake-free baseball, so the Dodgers will have to capitalize on their superior talent by matching them play for play. After overcoming St. Louis’ ace and getting back in this series, L.A. is buzzing for baseball once more.
A version of this article appeared on page 10 of October 16, 2013’s print edition of The Daily Nexus.
Art by Emily Zhang of The Daily Nexus.