LOS ANGELES — The Los Angeles Dodgers received sparkling pitching performances in the first two games of the National League Championship Series against the St. Louis Cardinals.
Staff aces Clayton Kershaw and Zack Greinke combined to allow two earned runs in 14 innings and yet the Dodgers lost both games. Now the Cardinals will unleash No. 1 starter Adam Wainwright against rookie Hyun-Jin Ryu, who wasn’t exactly steady in his previous postseason start against the Atlanta Braves.
He allowed four runs and six hits in three innings in Game 3 of the NL Division Series but the Dodgers rallied for a 13-6 win. Now Ryu will be pitching with the season at stake, realizing it’s highly unlikely the Dodgers can rally from a 3-0 deficit.
Ryu went 14-8 with a 3.00 ERA in 30 starts in his first major league season.
“There’s always additional pressure when you come back home down 2-0. I think all of us understand that,” Ryu said Sunday. “Now it’s a five-game series. We need to win four out of the five, and we’ll do the best we can to do that. I know this sounds a little obvious, but obviously, my mistakes against Atlanta was giving up the runs early. So I’ll go out there tomorrow and just do the best I can not to give up runs early in the game.”
The Dodgers cannot depend on an offensive breakout against Wainwright, especially considering they are hitting .184 in the series with 24 strikeouts. Also, Andre Ethier and Hanley Ramirez are both question marks to play in Game 3. Ryu may have to match Wainwright pitch for pitch.
“I think Hyun-Jin’s biggest thing is going to be fastball location,” manager Don Mattingly said. “When he’s pitching off of that and getting his fastball in that downhill plane, he’s been effective against everybody. It’s going to be more if he’s up to par and getting the fastball where he wants it and being able to locate on both sides of the plate like we talk about with Wainwright or somebody else, then his off speed comes into play.
“But if he’s not locating the fastball, he’s not a power pitcher from the standpoint of the high 90s or anything. So his location is going to be really important.”
Wainwright was languishing in Atlanta’s farm system when he was involved in a pivotal trade. He, along with reliever Ray King and starter Jason Marquis, were dealt to St. Louis for former Red Sox J.D. Drew and catcher Eli Marrero. Wainwright pitched out of the bullpen during the Cardinals’ 2006 World Series championship season and became a full-time starter in 2007.
He is 97-56 lifetime as a starter with a 3.10 ERA, using his 6-foot-7-inch frame to become one of the most imposing starters in the majors. Coincidentally, Wainwright said he received word of that December 2003 trade while asking his future father-in-law for his girlfriend’s hand in marriage.
“My phone was vibrating and going crazy, so I turned it off,” he explained. “Then the house phone started ringing, and my future father-in-law, Jim Curry, got up and answered it. I’m thinking we’re having a pretty important talk, why would he get up and answer the phone? But turned out it was my mom, and she was calling to tell us that I had been traded; and she was crying. The whole city where I live [Brunswick, Ga.] was crying, turned out to be one of the greatest moments of my life. He acknowledged that I could marry his daughter, which was great. But also getting traded to the St. Louis Cardinals rejuvenated my career and gave me a fresh start.”
Ramirez said he is willing to play through the pain of badly bruised ribs sustained when hit by a 95 miles-per-hour Joe Kelly pitch in the first inning of Game 1. Ramirez missed Game 2 but X-rays were negative. He also underwent a CT scan and Mattingly said Sunday he did not know the results.
“So no matter how much Hanley wants to play, there are certain things you’re not going to be able to play with,” Mattingly said. “You’ve got to be able to swing the bat. So if he can’t do that . . . once we get the scan back, you kind of know what you’re dealing with. It’s probably going to be a pain thing. But I know Hanley wants to play.”
Mattingly said he will decide early Monday whether Ethier will return to the starting lineup. He was limited to pinch-hitting duties in Game 2 because of a sore left ankle.