Dodgers starting pitcher Hyun-Jin Ryu goes through a workout at Dodger… (Jae C. Hong / Associated…)
For the Dodgers to advance to the World Series, they'll have to do to the St. Louis Cardinals what the Cardinals did to them.
"We have to beat their ace," Adrian Gonzalez said. "It's that simple."
So, come Monday at Dodger Stadium in Game 3 of the National League Championship Series, Hyun-Jin Ryu will be asked to replicate the performances of Cardinals starters Joe Kelly and Michael Wacha in the first two games of the series.
Kelly kept up with Zack Greinke in Game 1 to set the stage for the Cardinals' 13-inning, 3-2 walk-off victory. Wacha blanked the Dodgers for 6 2/3 innings in Game 2, allowing the Cardinals to beat Clayton Kershaw, 1-0.
Ryu's task will be to give the Dodgers a chance against Adam Wainwright, one of the great postseason performers in recent history.
"There's always additional pressure when you come back home down 2-0," Ryu said through an interpreter. "I think all of us understand that. Now, it's a five-game series. We need to win four out of five."
Wainwright, 31, has an earned-run average of 2.03 in 15 playoff games in his career.
The Cardinals used Wainwright as their closer in the 2006 postseason, which ended with his recording the final out of the World Series. The right-hander has since become a starter and perennial Cy Young Award contender, as well as the Cardinals' ace, a title he inherited from the injured Chris Carpenter, who missed the majority of the last two seasons.
As a starter, Wainwright is 3-0 with a 2.54 ERA in six postseason games. Wainwright's first playoff start was at Dodger Stadium, in Game 2 of the 2009 NL division series. He gave up only one run over eight innings, but the Dodgers rallied against closer Ryan Franklin in the ninth to pull out a 3-2 victory.
"Thinking back, I know it's going to be rocking tomorrow," Wainwright said Sunday. "I don't know how many people are here, but it's a lot of fans, bigger than most stadiums, I think, and very loud. I love that, though. The louder, the better. That plays right into my hands."
Former Cardinals manager Tony La Russa said Wainwright's desire to pitch in big games reminded him of another championship-winning ace he used to manage, Dave Stewart of the 1989 Oakland Athletics.
"He wanted to be the guy," La Russa said. "Even when Carpenter was the guy, he kept saying, 'I'm next in line, I'm ready.'"
Dodgers utility man Skip Schumaker, who played with Wainwright in St. Louis, compared the Cardinals ace to Kershaw.
"He's a lot like Kershaw in how he prepares," Schumaker said. "He's seen it all. Postseason is something he is not scared of, that's for sure. He prepares all off-season and all season for these moments."
And like Kershaw, Wainwright is armed with a devastating curveball.
"Those are probably two of the premier curveballs in all of baseball," Dodgers catcher A.J. Ellis said. "That's why those guys are at the top of the list every year for best pitcher in the National League."
Wainwright went to his curveball again and again Wednesday in pitching the Cardinals to a clinching 6-1 win over Pittsburgh in Game 5 of their division series.
"We kind of got a taste of it the other day watching that game on TV, just how confident he is with his curveball," Ellis said. "He throws it any count, any time. He's got the ability to throw it for strikes and shorten it for strikeouts."
Matching Wainwright would be a formidable task any time. But Ryu faces the additional challenge of recovering from the worst start of his rookie season.
Ryu lasted only three innings in Game 3 of the division series, his first-ever postseason game. He was tagged for four runs and six hits. Still, the Dodgers recovered to beat the Atlanta Braves, 13-6.
"I was a bit nervous," Ryu said. "Although, I do believe being completely nerve-free is also a bad thing as a competitor. So, I think it's finding a good balance between how anxious and how nervous I have to be tomorrow."