Dodgers shortstop Hanley Ramirez, playing with a broken rib, grimaces… (Wally Skalij / Los Angeles…)
As the seventh inning of the most important game of his life was about to start, Hanley Ramirez disappeared into the Dodgers clubhouse, his head down and jersey untucked, his bats and glove in his hands.
There were no miracles on the 25th anniversary of Kirk Gibson's home run in the 1988 World Series. Ramirez limped into the trainer's room, not around the bases. He was finished for the night and, perhaps, the season.
With Ramirez limited to six ineffective innings Tuesday night by a hairline fracture in his ribs, the Dodgers dropped a 4-2 decision to the St. Louis Cardinals at Dodger Stadium to move to within one loss of elimination. The Dodgers trail the best-of-seven National League Championship Series, three games to one.
BOX SCORE: St. Louis 4, Dodgers 2
Ramirez made no promises he would be in the lineup Wednesday when the Dodgers host the Cardinals for Game 5.
"I don't know," he said. "I don't know."
But he promised he would try.
"I've been trying my best to be in the lineup to help this team win," Ramirez said. "I'm going to keep doing that. Tomorrow, I'm going to come back, and when I get here, I expect to see my name in the lineup."
Ramirez, who missed Game 2 on Saturday after suffering the injury the previous night when he was hit by a Joe Kelly pitch during Game 1, said he woke up Tuesday morning in considerably more pain than he was in the night before, when he made his return to the lineup and helped the Dodgers to their only win of the series.
Ramirez's first-inning at-bat Tuesday was a nightmare. He fouled off a 1-0 pitch against Cardinals starter Lance Lynn and doubled over slightly and grimaced. He dropped to a knee after fouling off another pitch. When he swung and missed at strike three, Ramirez stumbled backward across home plate.
Ramirez also struck out in his two other at-bats. He didn't even take the bat off his shoulder in the fifth inning, when Lynn retired him in his final at-bat on three pitches.
"It was hard to watch," outfielder Carl Crawford said.
In the early stages of the game, the trainers wanted to take Ramirez out.
"No, I'm going to stay," he recalled telling them.
The conversations continued. Stan Conte, the Dodgers' director of medical services, stood on the top step of the dugout in the top of the sixth inning and exchanged signals with Ramirez at shortstop. In the bottom of that inning, Ramirez agreed to remove himself from the game.
"I had to come out because I couldn't take the pain anymore," he said.
The Dodgers were down, 3-2, at the time.
"We were still in the game," Ramirez said. "Men on base, with one swing, I could have tied the game. It's not easy, you know?"
There was one benefit to an early exit: He was told his only chance to play in Game 5 was to start receiving treatment right then. The game is scheduled for a 1p.m. start.
Game 4 was less painful but equally difficult for Ricky Nolasco, who played alongside Ramirez for several seasons on the non-contending Miami Marlins.
His turn in the division series having been skipped, Nolasco made his postseason debut after not having started a game in almost three weeks.
Nolasco unraveled in the third inning, when he gave up a run-scoring double to Matt Carpenter and a 426-foot, two-run home run to Matt Holliday. The Dodgers were down, 3-0.
The Dodgers pinch-hit for Nolasco in the bottom of the fourth inning, when Yasiel Puig and A.J. Ellis singled in runs to close the gap to 3-2. The Dodgers out-hit the Cardinals for the fourth time in four games, 8-6, but failed to generate any more runs.
"If we could score runs, we'd probably be up, 3-1," Adrian Gonzalez said.
Instead, they found themselves behind three games to one, after pinch-hitter Shane Robinson put the game out of reach with a solo home run off J.P. Howell in the seventh inning.
Utility man Nick Punto played shortstop in place of Ramirez that inning. The Dodgers' final shortstop of the night was 36-year-old Michael Young, who had never played the position in any of his previous 40 playoff games.