NLCS Game 4: Cardinals RH Lance Lynn vs Dodgers RH Ricky Nolasco

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The Pitchuation: Barring a last-minute switch to Zack Greinke on three days’ rest, a possibility manager Don Mattingly didn’t completely rule out either before or after Game 3, the Dodgers will send Ricky Nolasco out for his first career postseason start to try to tie the NLCS at two games apiece. In his career against St. Louis, Nolasco is 3-4 with a 3.84 ERA and a 1.44 WHIP in 61 innings spanning 11 appearances. He started twice against the Cardinals this season, once for Miami and once for the Dodgers, and pitched well, going 2-0 with a 0.75 ERA and a 1.00 WHIP in 12 innings of work. This season for the Dodgers, he was 8-3 with a 3.52 ERA and a 1.20 WHIP. Despite Nolasco pitching horribly in his final three outings (which is well chronicled), the Dodgers were 11-4 in his starts after he arrived in the trade from Miami. The Dodgers will face hard-throwing Lance Lynn. Lynn will be making his 19th postseason appearance, his fourth postseason start and his second start in the 2013 playoffs. In his career, Lynn is 4-3 with a 5.08 ERA and a 1.62 WHIP in the postseason. In his playoff starts, he is 0-2 with a 6.92 ERA and a 1.97 WHIP. Lynn hasn’t lasted longer than 4 1/3 innings in any of his previous postseason starts. For his career at Dodger Stadium, Lynn is 2-0 with a 2.50 ERA and a 1.17 WHIP while striking out 10.5 Dodgers batters per nine innings. He defeated the Dodgers 7-0 at Dodger Stadium on May 24 this season, giving up two hits and a walk in six innings while striking out nine. The Cardinals were 19-15 in his starts this season, including the postseason.

Cards vs. Nolasco: Five Cardinals regulars have hit Nolasco with, well, regularity. Carlos Beltran (.340, a home run and three RBI in 47 ABs), Matt Holliday (.462, three doubles, a triple, a home run and seven RBI in 26 ABs), Jon Jay (.538, a double and an RBI in 13 ABs), Daniel Descalso (.308, a double in 13 ABs) and David Freese (.500, a double and an RBI in 12 ABs) all have enjoyed hitting against Nolasco. Yadier Molina (.273, three singles in 11 ABs) has had moderate success against the Dodgers’ Game 4 starter.

Down by One in Game 4: Since 1920, the Dodgers have been down 2-1 in a series on 15 occasions in 14 postseasons. The Dodgers were able to tie the series seven of those 15 times and subsequently went on to win the World Series in four of the 14 seasons in which they trailed 2-1 in a series. The Dodgers franchise has never won a best-of-seven series when it trailed 3-1.

Game 4 of the 1985 NLCS at Old Busch Stadium: On Oct. 13, the Cardinals tied the NLCS, and for the Dodgers, it happened in embarrassing fashion. Jerry Reuss faced off against John Tudor, who was working on three days’ rest after his Game 1 loss at Chavez Ravine. It was Reuss, however, who had extreme difficulty, as his former team knocked him around for seven runs (two earned) in the second inning. Current Dodgers pitching coach Rick Honeycutt relieved him with two outs during the second inning but couldn’t retire any of the four hitters he faced and was replaced by Bobby Castillo, who finally got the final out. By that time, the Cards had used eight singles, two walks and a throwing error by Reuss to score nine runs en route to a 12-2 rout of the Blue Crew.

– Phil Stone

Some late-night wrap-up stuff from Game 3

Another old video of Vin Scully showed up in my in-box today from MLB.com. This is the one I made mention of the other night of Vinny standing with Sandy Koufax on top of an equipment trunk in the visiting clubhouse of old Bloomington Metropolitan Stadium in Minnesota after Sandy’s masterpiece in Game 7 of the 1965 World Series. This is a beautiful piece of Dodgers history right here.

I was saddened to learn tonight of the sudden passing of veteran umpire Wally Bell, who died at age 48, reportedly of a heart attack. I introduced myself to him in the bar at the Sheraton Pasadena after last year’s home opener, and he couldn’t have been more engaging, asking my opinion about some strange play that happened in that day’s game that I honestly don’t remember any specifics about now. Joe Torre, who oversees all the umpires now for the league office, and Gerry Davis, the crew chief for this National League Championship Series, appeared jointly in the interview room after the game, and Davis spoke eloquently and emotionally about his lost colleague.

“Wally was a true umpire’s umpire, and anyone who ever worked with him loved him, and I think that is not only true of the umpire brotherhood,” Davis said. “I think if you will check with the players and teams, they felt the same way, because Wally always gave 110 percent on the field. We … are a very tightknit group, and it’s going to be a big loss for us.”

I can’t remember which umpire Wally was in the bar with that night I met him, but it was obviously a less experienced guy who was part of Wally’s crew. I remember Wally picking up the tab for both of their drinks. When the other umpire briefly protested, Wally said, “No, no, I always treat the younger guys.” That’s just a glimpse into who he was, the only glimpse I ever got, really. But I could tell immediately that he was a good dude. And he died far too young.

Bell was just beginning his offseason, having worked the N.L. Division Series between Pittsburgh and St. Louis just last week.

Finally, Brian Wilson pitched another scoreless inning tonight, the eighth, and now has pitched 16 2/3 career postseason innings without allowing an earned run, moving him past Dennis Cook into fourth place on the all-time list for most postseason innings without an earned run allowed. Former Atlanta Braves closer John Rocker, who famously enjoyed taking the 7 train from midtown Manhattan to Shea Stadium, holds the record with 20 2/3 innings.

Ramirez grits and guts his way to an image makeover

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The rehabilitation of Hanley Ramirez‘s public image, a long, gradual, methodical process that began around the time the Miami Marlins traded him to the Dodgers last summer, may have been officially completed tonight. Any last remnants of the perception of this guy as a petulant, selfish superstar-in-waiting finally disappeared, displaced forever by the profile of a true gamer, a gritty warrior who pushed himself onto the field for a National League Championship Series game his team simply couldn’t afford to lose, a guy whose long list of on-going ailments now includes a hairline fracture to one of his ribs. He even added a couple of hits to boot.

This is the new Hanley. The one without whom the Dodgers probably couldn’t have gotten very far in this postseason.

There is a plethora of reasons why the Dodgers won tonight, cutting the St. Louis Cardinals’ lead in this best-of-seven series to 2-1. There were the seven shutout innings by Hyun-jin Ryu, the big hits by Mark Ellis and Adrian Gonzalez and the suddenly awakened Yasiel Puig, the dominating late-inning performances of relievers Brian Wilson and Kenley Jansen.

But the inspirational star of this game was Ramirez, and it wasn’t so much because of that insurance run he drove in during the bottom of the eighth inning. That was just a well-placed pop-up that happened to find grass at a time when the right, fleet-footed teammate happened to be running off second base.

No, this was more about the symbolic nature of Ramirez’s mere presence at shortstop when the Dodgers starters jogged out to their respective positions to begin the game. Ramirez already had a sore throwing shoulder, an irritated nerve in his lower back and pain in his hamstring resulting from the back thing. And since he stepped into the batter’s box for the first time in this, his first career NLCS, when he was plunked in the left side by the Cardinals’ Joe Kelly, Ramirez has had a broken rib, something he didn’t find out about until earlier today when he underwent a CT scan.

By all accounts, since acquiring Ramirez on July 25, 2012, the Dodgers have experienced none of the behavior for which Ramirez, rightly or wrongly, gained a reputation during his Marlins days. Since arriving here, there is nothing to suggest he ever has been anything other than a good teammate and a dedicated soldier, a guy who has been willing to play through pain and do whatever has been asked of him. But reputations can be a hard thing to shake, especially when your standard workday includes being followed around by media members who like to shade their stories with background and perspective, and so the questions still are routinely asked of manager Don Mattingly and the front office about what Ramirez has been like to have around.

Those questions might come a little less often now.

Ramirez went 2-for-4 at the plate, but neither one of those hits was hit particularly hard — they both were just kind of bloopers over the head of whichever Cardinals second baseman was in the game at the time, Matt Carpenter on the first one, Kolten Wong on the later one — nor was the routine fly ball he hit to right field in the fourth. He did turn on an inside pitch in the sixth and hit a smash down the third-base line, but the Cardinals’ Daniel Descalso, who was in the game only because David Freese had left with calf tightness, lunged to his right to pick it off and, with his momentum carrying him into foul territory, fired across his body to nab Ramirez, robbing him of what might have been a double.

Ramirez also flawlessly handled the only ground ball hit to him all night, as well as taking a throw from first baseman Adrian Gonzalez at second and throwing it right back on a doubleplay attempt that Descalso barely beat out in the seventh inning.

Ultimately, though, none of that is what anyone will remember about what Ramirez delivered for the Dodgers tonight. For a guy who was in so much pain 48 hours ago that he could barely move, just the fact Ramirez managed to be in the starting lineup and get through eight innings before being doubleswitched out of the game in the ninth, that was how Ramirez left his mark on a game that could prove to be a turning point in a series that suddenly is a long way from being decided.

Ramirez wasn’t alone in his heroics. Andre Ethier, who was in the starting lineup for the first time in a month for Game 1 then missed Game 2 when he experienced increased soreness in his left leg after playing all 13 innings (minus one batter) of the opener, was back. He played the entire game, without incident, and figures to be in there again for Game 4, as does Ramirez.

Whether the Dodgers win or lose this series, Ramirez’s gallantry tonight will fade from the memories of the national media and the general public, lost in the numerous memorable moments still to come in this postseason. But the Dodgers, they won’t soon forget it. Because suddenly, and perhaps against all expectations, they had their most important offensive player back on the field tonight, warts and all.

And just as suddenly, we now have a truly compelling NLCS on our hands.

Mark Ellis postgame video

Adrian Gonzalez/Yasiel Puig postgame video

There is some good banter toward the end of this.

Hyun-jin Ryu postgame video

Don Mattingly postgame video

Another two-parter. On the subject of tomorrow night’s starting pitcher, he is still being coy, saying (twice) that, “As of right now, Ricky Nolasco is our starting pitcher.” I know I’m waffling here after writing before the game that my money’s on Zack Greinke coming back on three days’ rest, but now that the Dodgers have won and won’t be fighting for playoff survival in Game 4, I’m thinking now they might stick with Nolasco. Given that this is a best-of-seven, you figure they are going to have to use Nolasco at some point, so it might as well be now.

Dodgers 3, Cardinals 0

Behind a superb, and oh-so-timely, performance by rookie-in-name-only left-hander Hyun-jin Ryu and just enough offense, the Dodgers clawed their way back into this National League Championship Series, giving themselves a chance to pull even if they can win Game 4 tomorrow night.

Ryu, who had been shaky and lasted just three innings in his only previous start this postseason, turned in seven shutout innings, stuffing the Cardinals on three hits and a walk. They got just one runner into scoring position against him, but that runner, third baseman David Freese, left for a pinch runner because of right-calf tightness, and that pinch runner, Daniel Descalso, subsequently got himself doubled off after inexplicably wandering too far off second on a fly ball to shallow left field in the fifth inning.

Ryu didn’t give up a hit until that fifth inning.

Cardinals ace Adam Wainwright mostly stymied the offensively struggling Dodgers, as well, except for an aberrational-yet-fateful fourth inning in which the Dodgers got a leadoff double from from Mark Ellis on a routine fly ball that fell between center fielder Jon Jay and right fielder Carlos Beltran due to an apparent lack of communication; a one-out double by Adrian Gonzalez; and a two-out triple from the colossally slumping Yasiel Puig on a ball that both Puig and Beltran appeared to think was a home run — Puig initially stood at home plate, hands raised, and watched the flight of the ball, while Beltran gave up on what might have been a catchable ball and wound up fielding it on the carom in right field.

The Dodgers added an insurance run in the eighth inning when Carl Crawford scampered all the way home from second on Hanley Ramirez‘s pop fly that fell just out of the reach of Cardinals second baseman Matt Carpenter in shallow right field.

Relievers Brian Wilson and Kenley Jansen silenced the Cardinals in the eighth and ninth innings, respectively, and the Dodgers now trail the Cardinals 2-1 in the best-of-seven series. Right-hander Ricky Nolasco is scheduled to start Game 4 for the Dodgers, but manager Don Mattingly left open the possibility that Zack Greinke could get the ball on three days’ rest instead, depending on the results of Game 3.

NLCS Game 3: Dodgers vs. St. Louis

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Not to put too much pressure on the boys, but this is a monumentally important game. In the entire history of Major League Baseball, there has been exactly one occasion in which a team came back from a 3-0 deficit to win a best-of-seven series, that being the 2004 Boston Red Sox in that year’s American League Championship Series against the New York Yankees. In fact, that also is the only occasion in which a team that trailed 3-0 even forced a seventh game, and what’s more, it was one of only two occasions in MLB history in which a team trailing 3-0 managed to get the series as far as Game 6 (the other was the 1999 New York Mets, who won Games 4 and 5 of the N.L. Championship Series against the Atlanta Braves before succumbing to a walkoff walk in Game 6.

It helps that the Dodgers are somewhat intact with Hanley Ramirez and Andre Ethier in the lineup, but it remains to be seen how much their respective injuries will hamper them. It’s only a hairline fracture, but Hanley still has a broken rib, and he is going to play shortstop and hit that way — albeit with a brace around his torso.

The other big test tonight will be which Hyun-jin Ryu shows up. If it’s the guy who had a superb rookie season for the Dodgers, they will have a chance against Adam Wainwright. If it is the tired-looking Ryu who lasted just three innings against the Braves in Game 3 of the N.L. Division Series, it could be a long night — and a short series.

Another beautiful, warm evening at the Ravine.

Batter up.

Report: Mattingly will receive contract extension

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While this may or may not put to rest all the speculation about Dodgers manager Don Mattingly‘s job security, there is a report by USA Today’s Bob Nightengale, citing a high-ranking Dodgers executive as his source, that Mattingly will receive a contract extension after the season. Nightengale didn’t play it up that big, sticking it about halfway down a more general story about the dire circumstances in which the Dodgers presently find themselves in this National League Championship Series. He also uses the term “extension” in the story, which would mean Mattingly will get a new contract as opposed to simply having his 2014 option picked up, something the story says was cemented when the Dodgers won their N.L. Division Series against Atlanta.

A neat twist to Game 3 tonight: the ceremonial first pitch will be thrown simultaneously by Dusty Baker, Reggie Smith, Ron Cey and Steve Garvey, who in 1977 became the first set of four teammates in major league history to each hit 30 or more home runs in the same season.

If the Dodgers are going to come back in this series, it won’t be because the Cardinals get complacent. This is the same team that had a 3-1 lead over the Giants in last year’s NLCS, only to lose three in a row and miss the World Series.

“I really don’t think last year we were a victim of complacency or the guys took anything for granted,” Cardinals manager Mike Matheny said. “We just continued to play the game, and they played a little better than we did. … We have a sense of urgency, I believe, all the time. There is really nothing different to do. Now, if guys start backing off, it would be very contrary to anything we have seen all season long, and we would make a point to try and right the ship. But right now, it is just play the game, keep going, keep your head down. But what we learned last year is just how fragile this is and how quickly it can get away from you.”