Despite coming home down 0-2 in the NL championship series, the Los Angeles Dodgers believed they easily could have taken the first two games in St. Louis with some clutch hitting.
They finally came through with some big hits to cut their deficit in half, and now aim to even their best-of-seven series with the Cardinals in Tuesday's Game 4.
Los Angeles got a huge lift before Monday's Game 3 with the news that Hanley Ramirez would start. Batting third in the lineup, Ramirez, who sat out Game 2 after being hit by a pitch in the ribs in the opener, singled in his first at-bat and drove in the final run with a hit in the eighth inning in the Dodgers' 3-0 win.
"What can I say? It couldn't be better,'' Ramirez said. "Really happy we got the first win. Just come back (Tuesday) and even up the series.''
Ramirez, who wore a lightweight flak jacket to protect his ribs, is batting .455 with seven RBIs in the playoffs.
Andre Ethier also returned after being limited to a pinch-hitting role in Game 2 because of shin splints. He was hitless in four at-bats and is 1 for 13 with five strikeouts in the postseason.
The Dodgers outhit the Cardinals 14-9 in St. Louis, but were just 1 for 16 with runners in scoring position. They snapped a 22-inning scoreless streak with Adrian Gonzalez's RBI double in the fourth inning and Yasiel Puig drove him in with a triple.
Los Angeles finished 3 for 11 with runners in scoring position.
"The playoffs are one-day momentum swings,'' Dodgers manager Don Mattingly said. "Right now I feel like we've kind of grabbed it.''
While Mattingly believes his club has turned a corner, St. Louis' offense is still sputtering.
The Cardinals were limited to four hits Monday by Hyun-Jin Ryu, Brian Wilson and Kenley Jansen, and are batting .134 with seven walks in the NLCS. Manager Mike Matheny is uncertain if David Freese can return Tuesday after leaving Game 3 in the fifth inning with tightness in his right calf.
"We were fortunate to win the first two (with poor hitting),'' Freese said. "We've got to get the sticks going a little bit.''
The nine combined runs in the series are the fewest ever through three games of a league championship series, and it's anyone's guess how Game 4 will unfold with Los Angeles' Ricky Nolasco (13-11, 3.70 ERA) scheduled to go against Lance Lynn (1-1, 7.11).
Nolasco was expected to start Game 4 of the NL division series, but was bypassed as the Dodgers decided to go with Clayton Kershaw on three days' rest in an effort to wrap up the series. It is possible Mattingly could use a similar strategy given that Game 1 starter Zack Greinke threw only 12 pitches in Sunday's bullpen session - a relatively light workout.
"As of right now, Ricky is our set pitcher," Mattingly said after Game 3.
Nolasco had been outstanding for Los Angeles since being acquired from Miami on July 6, going 8-1 with a 2.07 ERA in his first 12 starts, but then suddenly hit a wall, posting a 12.75 ERA over his final three starts. He hasn't pitched in a game since making a relief appearance against Colorado on Sept. 29.
"Until somebody says otherwise, I'm focused on going out there and pitching (Tuesday)," Nolasco said.
The right-hander had a 0.75 ERA in winning his two 2013 starts against the Cardinals, yielding three unearned runs in five innings in his lone outing against them with the Dodgers on Aug. 7.
Carlos Beltran, who is 2 for 11 in this series, is batting .340 with a homer in 47 career at-bats against Nolasco, while Matt Holliday, hitless in 12 at-bats in the NLCS, is 12 for 26 with two home runs and three doubles.
Lynn already has made an appearance in the NLCS, throwing two scoreless innings of relief in the 13-inning opener. He allowed a single to Carl Crawford over the final two frames and was credited with the win.
The right-hander, however, was shaky against Pittsburgh in Game 2 of the NLDS, yielding five runs, seven hits and three walks in 4 1-3 innings of a 7-1 loss. He is 0-2 with a 6.94 ERA in three career postseason starts.
"Everything's different," Lynn said of the playoffs. "With the extra off days and all that stuff, the playoffs are always going to throw off your normal routine, because you're used to playing every single day."
Lynn was sharp in his lone start of the season against Los Angeles on May 24, allowing two hits in six innings of a 7-0 win at Dodger Stadium.