LOS ANGELES -- Down two games to none in the National League Championship Series, Hyun-jin Ryu came through when the Dodgers needed him most in Game 3 on Monday night at Dodger Stadium.
After a poor start in his last Game 3, on Oct. 6 against the Braves when he lasted just three innings, Ryu was greatly effective on Monday night. He allowed only four runners to reach base in seven scoreless innings.
"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 ever pitched here this year," Ryu said, translated by Martin Kim. "So I focused from the very first pitch, I just zoned in and fortunately I was able to get a good result out of the game."
Technically Game 3 wasn't a must-win game for the Dodgers because a loss wouldn't have eliminated them. But down 3-0 is a hole no team wants to be in, and the Dodgers knew it.
"Yeah, I think realistically you feel like it's a must‑win. But, again, you feel like every one is like that. I've been in a being up 3‑0 series and knowing that that can change," said manager Don Mattingly. "This is one of those games that you come home, if can you get the game and get the momentum on your side, you feel like obviously they still have the upper hand because they're up 2‑1.
"But you feel like you're back in the series, and it gives your guys a little bit of confidence. Again, I think the playoffs are a one‑day momentum swings. Every day changes with momentum. Right now I feel like we've kind of grabbed it."
They grabbed it thanks to Ryu, who gave the Dodgers their best start in a series of great starts. Zack Greinke allowed two runs in Game 1, Clayton Kershaw allowed one run in Game 2, and Ryu allowed none in Game 3. Maybe Ricky Nolasco will allow negative runs in Game 4.
With the Cardinals hitting .134/.190/.175 in the series, anything is possible.
On the season Ryu has allowed just one unearned run in 14 innings against St. Louis. He has won both of his starts against the Cardinals, and could face them again if the NLCS extends to seven games.
"He's thrown a couple of good games against us. Threw the ball well today and didn't make a lot of mistakes," said Cardinals manager Mike Matheny. "He controlled the counts, controlled the plate, did what he wanted to against us."
Ryu kept the Cardinals off balance on Monday with an unusually sharp and speedy fastball, one that hit 95 mph several times on the stadium gun.
"He doesn't do that a whole lot, but it seems like in the games that he gets a little amped for and he's had his really, really good games, we'll see him touch that," Mattingly said. "He doesn't really pitch there. It's more of the 92, 91. We see him get in trouble when he's 88, 89, when he doesn't have the same life on his fastball.
"But the day that's he's feeling good and you start seeing that 95, just touch it 94 now and then, he's got enough velocity to get guys having to speed up a little bit and then it makes everything else better."
Ryu knew early that his fastball was working.
"I realized it today warming up in the bullpen that my fastball was on point," Ryu said. "But I was trying to focus in a little more today, and I think I added a little more to the game."
With the win, Ryu improved to 8-4 this season at Dodger Stadium with a 2.44 ERA in 17 starts, with 84 strikeouts and 23 walks in 107 innings.
"[Monday was] what we kind of expected the first time out, really, because he's pitched big in a most big games this year," Mattingly said. "He's pitched really well and seemed to handle it really well."
St. Louis had a mini-rally in the seventh inning. With the Dodgers up 2-0, Yadier Molina singled with one out and advanced into scoring position with two outs. Slugging first baseman Matt Adams was up representing the tying run. Mattingly visited the mound to talk to Ryu, already at 103 pitches on the night.
Mattingly didn't bring a hook to the mound, and Ryu stayed in.
"My body was in good condition," Ryu said. "Obviously, when [Mattingly] walked away and gave me the green light to go after the last batter, whenever you feel that kind of a trust from your manager, actually it motivates you to make sure you commit and get that out."
Ryu got that out (with a strikeout of Adams), just like he got 20 others in Game 3. And the Dodgers are back in the series.