The Dodgers couldn't score more than one run off John Lackey, and it brought their greatest weakness into play. The Cardinals pounced on the Dodgers bullpen again for a 3-1 win in Game 3 of the NLDS on Monday night at Busch Stadium in St. Louis.
The Cardinals lead the best-of-five series two games to one.
With a 1-1 tie in the seventh inning, relief pitcher Scott Elbert allowed a double to Yadier Molina to open the inning, then after a sacrifice bunt allowed a two-run home run to Kolten Wong, the latest in a string of putrid performances out of the Dodgers' mess of a bullpen.
"It's not about managing. It's about choices," said Tom Verducci on the Fox Sports 1 broadcast, "and Don Mattingly has no good choices right now to get to his closer."
Verducci is right, though one choice Mattingly could have made was to have a right-handed pitcher face Molina to begin the inning before the pair of lefties were due up. But if Elbert can't get those left-handed batters out anyway, what does it matter?
If anything, give credit to Elbert for waiting until his third batter faced to allow a home run. In Game 1, first reliever Pedro Baez allowed a home run to his second batter - Matt Holliday - and in Game 2, J.P. Howell gave up a home run to his second batter - Matt Carpenter.
Hyun-Jin Ryu gave the Dodgers everything they could have hoped for and more on Monday after 23 days between starts. He pitched six innings and struck out four, with only five hits and a walk allowed.
Ryu was removed after 94 pitches in part because it was his first start in over three weeks but more because his spot in the batting order came up in the seventh, and the game was still tied. The Dodgers, needing offense, chose to pinch hit Scott Van Slyke, who grounded out to end the frame.
The only run Ryu allowed was a home run by Carpenter, which is literally an everyday occurrence these days.
The left-handed-hitting Carpenter hit .262/.364/.361 against left-handed pitchers in 2014, not much different than his overall line of .272/.375/.375. But what was notable was his two home runs this year against left-handed pitchers in 218 regular season plate appearances.
Carpenter has three home runs - and two doubles - in 10 plate appearances against left-handed pitchers in the NLDS, with one home run in each game. Manager Don Mattingly made his awareness of Carpenter known in the in-game interview on Fox Sports 1.
"I'm thinking Stan Musial is somewhere rolling around in that body," Mattingly said. "Jesus."
Yasiel Puig was going in the opposite direction, coming off the golden sombrero in Game 2 and struck out twice in his first two at-bats on Monday. That pushed his run of consecutive strikeouts to seven, one shy of the major league record in one postseason.
But after the first strikeout, one of my favorite Twitter follows made a prediction.
Puig will hit tonight just wait. for it.— PedroGuerrero (@PedroGuerreroLA) October 7, 2014
In the sixth inning, in his third at-bat, Puig broke the strikeout string with a hard line drive into the right field corner for a stand-up triple to lead off the inning. That triple by Puig was unique in Dodgers lore.
Yasiel Puig: 1st Dodgers CF with triple in postseason game since Pedro Guerrero in 1981 World Series Game 6— Katie Sharp (@ktsharp) October 7, 2014
After a short pop up to left field by Adrian Gonzalez not deep enough to score Puig and a strikeout by Matt Kemp, it looked like Puig might get stranded on third base. But then Hanley Ramirez lined a first-pitch double to right field to finally get the Dodgers on the board, scoring Puig to tie the game at 1-1.
But outside of getting Dee Gordon into scoring position in the first inning and stranding him, that was pretty much all the offense for the Dodgers, until Ramirez and Carl Crawford singled with one out in the ninth against closer Trevor Rosenthal, putting the tying runs on base.
Rosenthal got Juan Uribe and A.J. Ellis to fly out to right field to end the game.
Clayton Kershaw gets the call in Game 4 on Tuesday afternoon, a 2:07 p.m. PT start. Shelby Miller starts for St. Louis, trying to advance to its ninth NLCS in the last 15 seasons.
Game 3 particulars
Home runs: Matt Carpenter (3), Kolten Wong (1)
WP - John Lackey (1-0): 7 IP, 5 hits, 1 run, 1 walk, 8 strikeouts
LP - Scott Elbert (0-1): ⅔ IP, 3 hits, 2 runs
Sv - Trevor Rosenthal (2): 1 IP, 2 hits, 1 strikeout