Ramirez took his fractured rib, and Ethier his microfractured leg, and they rejoined the inspired Dodgers for a 3-0 win over the Cardinals on Monday night in Game 3. Hyun-Jin Ryu dispelled suspicions that he's got a sore elbow with seven scoreless innings on three hits to outpitch St. Louis ace Adam Wainwright.
"Realistically, you feel like it's a must win," said manager Don Mattingly. "You come home, if you get the game, you get momentum on your side. Obviously, up 2-1 they still have the upper hand, but you feel like you're back in the series. It gives your guys a little confidence. Every day is momentum in the postseason, and right now, I feel like we grabbed it."
Mattingly said Ricky Nolasco "right now" is the starting pitcher for Game 4 on Tuesday, and this time he apparently means it. He said the same thing last week for Game 4 of the NL Division Series against Atlanta, only for Clayton Kershaw to get the ball. The club considered bringing NLCS Game 1 starter Zack Greinke back on three days' rest, but decided on Nolasco on Monday night. Even with pitching Greinke and Kershaw on three days' rest, the club would need to get a start from Nolasco at some point in the series.
Mattingly said he didn't know if Ramirez or Ethier would be able to play Tuesday. He hopes so because, even when they are hurting, their presence changes opposing pitchers' game plans.
"Oh yeah. You know, I'll be ready to go tomorrow, for our fans, for our team and for our city," Ramirez said. "I'm a gamer. I've been saying all year I'm a gamer and I'm going to die on the field."
"It was better than I thought," Ethier said. "We'll come out [Tuesday] and see how everything feels. I want to play. We will see. We won't know until tomorrow."
Ramirez's RBI flare single came in the eighth inning, with Carl Crawford racing home from second when rookie infielder Kolten Wong flipped the ball in to second base instead of the plate. That tacked a run onto the two runs the Dodgers scored in the fourth inning to snap a 22-inning scoreless drought. That rally included doubles by Mark Ellis and Adrian Gonzalez, plus a typically wild and wacky triple by excitable rookie Yasiel Puig.
Ethier was 0-for-4 with a strikeout, but Mattingly was comfortable enough with his physical condition that he played the entire game in center field.
"It's great, because both of those guys have kind of had an M.O. in the past of kind of being more about themselves than about the team," said A.J. Ellis. "Probably in our clubhouse, too, we've seen that in the past. But both those guys have been all about winning this year."
Now the Dodgers, after losing starts by their two best starters, beat the Cardinals' best starter.
"They beat Kershaw and Greinke, so for us to do the same to their guy, it's huge," said Gonzalez. "Today was pretty much a must-win game for us, and we were able to get it done."
Ryu, whose elbow soundness was the subject of much debate before and after a three-inning start against Atlanta, rebounded with dominating stuff and hit 95 mph with his fastball, living up to scouting reports that he's capable of dialing it up when the situation demands. Ryu's changeup is always more deceptive when he has a livelier fastball.
"All I was thinking about was the fact that we were down 2-0, and I told myself this could potentially be the last start I pitch here this year," Ryu said. "So I focused from the very first pitch, I just zoned in and I was able to get a good result."
And the offense gave him enough to work with, after the Dodgers were 1-for-16 with runners in scoring position in the first two games.
"It was kind of on us as position players," said A.J. Ellis, who had a rare triple.
Puig, as he did numerous times this year, infuriated the opposition with his antics on his triple, which snapped an 0-for-11 (seven strikeouts) start to the series. He flipped his bat and celebrated at the plate with his home run pose, until he realized the laser shot wasn't high enough to get out. He shifted into overdrive when he saw it hit the bullpen gate, and he resumed celebrating even before he pulled into third, where he was stranded.
"He still thinks he's playing somewhere else, I don't know," said Cardinals right fielder Carlos Beltran. "He has a lot of passion, no doubt about that. Great ability, great talent, and I think with time he will learn that you have to sometimes act a little bit more calm. Not only with trying to show up other teams, [but also], like, umpires."
Even Mattingly expressed his usual dismay over Puig's antics, which break all kinds of professional baseball protocol and occasionally lead to retaliation.
"I'd like to see him run right away," said Mattingly. "Obviously, he thought it was gone. I've been dealing with this all year. He's just emotional and it's areas we'll work on."
Here's how Puig answered the critics: "We're in the playoffs. Playoffs, playoffs."
Postseason veteran Brian Wilson struck out a pair in the eighth inning to set up closer Kenley Jansen, who got the save.
The Cardinals' first hit didn't come until the fifth inning, a leadoff bloop single to right field by David Freese that Puig nearly caught with a dive. Freese injured his right calf in the at-bat, and on Matt Adams' sharp single to right, Freese hobbled to second and was lifted for pinch-runner Daniel Descalso, who ran St. Louis out of the inning by getting doubled off second on Jon Jay's line drive to left.
"That was big," said Mark Ellis. "You don't want to give them any momentum at all. We got a break -- a smart baseball player made a mistake and I don't think he'll do that again."
It was one of several St. Louis misplays after near-flawless play in the first two victories at home. Ramirez got the first Dodgers hit off Wainwright, even if it was a cheap one. He took a big swing with two outs in the first inning but connected off the end of the bat with a high fly, and Jay broke slowly, with the ball dropping in shallow center for a single. Ramirez was stranded when Gonzalez popped out softly.
The next Dodgers hit wasn't struck much better, but Mark Ellis' catchable fly ball to right-center leading off the fourth inning fell untouched when Jay and Beltran couldn't decide who would catch it.
"It's a play that, as a center fielder, and I was a center fielder before, you have to take charge," said Beltran. "He knows that."
That brought up Ramirez, whose fly to right field was deep enough to move Ellis to third, even with a strong throw from Beltran. Gonzalez, the 100-RBI cleanup hitter, fisted an inside fastball down the right-field line for a double to score Ellis, and his celebration at second base also annoyed the Cardinals. Ethier's groundout moved Gonzalez to third and he scored on the triple by Puig.
Wainwright called Gonzalez's display at second base "Mickey Mouse," which promoted this response from Gonzalez: "We're in L.A., Mickey Mouse is an hour away, it fits us."
Meanwhile, Ryu immediately showed improved velocity, hitting 95 mph in the first inning. That's usually Ryu's worst frame of the game, and when he walked Beltran after starting the at-bat 0-2, it looked like he might be in for a repeat of his struggles in Atlanta last week.
But he ended that inning with a called strikeout of Yadier Molina on a slider away, one of 11 consecutive batters set down after the walk to Beltran.