LOS ANGELES — Only four starting pitchers in Dodgers history have thrown seven or more scoreless innings in a postseason game and allowed three or fewer hits: Don Drysdale, Sandy Koufax, Orel Hershiser and, most recently, Hyun-Jin Ryu.
Ryu recovered from the worst start of his rookie season with one of the best performances of his 26-year-old life, pitching the Dodgers back into the National League Championship Series by leading them to a 3-0 victory over the St. Louis Cardinals on Monday night.
The Dodgers’ Game 3 win, played in front of 53,049 towel-waving fans at Dodger Stadium, closed their deficit in the series to two games to one.
After receiving an emotional lift from watching Hanley Ramirez and Andre Ethier return to the lineup in obvious pain, the South Korean left-hander limited the Cardinals to three hits and a walk over seven innings.
“It’s definitely a big motivation when you see your star players go out there hurt and putting it on the line for the team,” Ryu said through an interpreter.
By beating Adam Wainwright, Ryu added the Cardinals ace to a star-studded list of pitchers whose teams lost when they started in this series. The others: Zack Greinke and Clayton Kershaw of the Dodgers.
Conventional wisdom was that the Dodgers would win Games 1 and 2, and the Cardinals Game 3. The exact opposite happened.
“The great thing about this game of baseball is that you can talk about, ‘This is what should happen,’ but it never does play out that way,” the Dodgers’ Adrian Gonzalez said.
Entering the game, there were serious concerns about Ryu, who lasted only three innings in his division-series start against the Atlanta Braves. But he learned something from that.
“It taught me a big lesson that in big games, the first couple of innings are that crucial and important,” he said.
Ryu’s preference had always been to gradually work his way into a rhythm. That was probably why he gave up first-inning runs in 19 of 31 previous starts. But before this game, pitching coach Rick Honeycutt challenged him to throw at full intensity from the beginning. Ryu was told that if he could pitch only four innings, so be it.
Ryu, who usually throws his fastball in the high 80s to low 90s, was clocked in the first inning at 95 mph.
“He was ready to go,” catcher A.J. Ellis said.
And he was ready to last.
With two outs and a man on first base in the seventh inning, Ryu received a visit from manager Don Mattingly and interpreter Martin Kim. The next batter, Matt Adams, represented the tying run.
Ellis recalled the scene on the mound, saying Mattingly asked Ryu, “Do you have enough for this guy? Can you get this guy?”
Ryu was adamant he could, according to Ellis.
Ryu struck out Adams to end the inning.
“When he walked away and gave me the green light to go after the last batter, whenever you feel that kind of trust from your manager, it motivates you to commit and get that out,” Ryu said.
The following inning, the Dodgers increased their lead to 3-0, as Carl Crawford scored from second base on a bloop single to shallow right-center field by Ramirez. Second baseman Kolten Wong, who retrieved the ball, made the mistake of throwing the ball to shortstop Daniel Descalso instead of catcher Yadier Molina. Crawford beat Descalso’s relay to the plate.
“I’m just looking at the third base coach,” Crawford said of Tim Wallach. “He just kept waving me. I gave him a look as I was running like, ‘Are you sure?’ ”
The Dodgers, who lost 1-0 in Game 2, ended a 22-inning runless drought when they scored twice in the fourth inning. Gonzalez doubled down the right-field line to drive in Mark Ellis from third base.
Gonzalez mimicked an explosion with his hands, drawing the ire of Wainwright.
“I saw Adrian doing some Mickey Mouse stuff at second,” Wainwright said.
Gonzalez’s response: “We are in L.A., so Mickey Mouse stuff does go. You know, Mickey Mouse is only an hour away. It fits us.”
Gonzalez scored two batters later on a triple by Yasiel Puig to right field. Puig had been 0 for 11 in the series with seven strikeouts.