ST. LOUIS -- The Dodgers played .800 ball for two months this season. Now they must do it over the next five games: win four of five or be eliminated.
They haven't dropped their first two games and gone on to win a best-of-seven postseason series since the 1981 World Series, but that's the assignment after a 1-0 Game 2 loss Saturday to the Cardinals, who took a 2-0 lead in the National League Championship Series that moves to Los Angeles on Monday (5 p.m. PT on TBS).
Hanley Ramirez, a late scratch from the lineup, will have a CT scan on his painful ribs to see if negative X-rays taken at a hospital missed anything. He said he doesn't know if he'll play in Game 3.
Andre Ethier will use a workout at Dodger Stadium on Sunday's day off to see if he'll be a player or just a pinch-hitter as he returned to the bench Saturday after a one-game comeback from a month-long leg injury. He doesn't know about Game 3, either.
"Well, it doesn't make us better, that's for sure," manager Don Mattingly said of potentially losing Ramirez. "I've talked about this guy so much, I feel like he's one of the best players in the game. We go from not only losing Hanley, but we really don't have Dre today, either. So our lineup changes when you take a couple guys out. It leaves Adrian [Gonzalez] vulnerable that they're not going to pitch to him. Obviously, we're not going to be as good without him as we are with him."
"Initially, it was a body blow," A.J. Ellis said of learning that Ramirez had been scratched. "But Nick Punto is a great defender, and he kept us in the game and got a big hit. For our team, [injuries] shouldn't be a factor, we've played so many games without key players."
Without both, the Dodgers tried to win an October game with the lineup they often used in September, and even Clayton Kershaw couldn't make that work.
Kershaw, coming off his short-rest start in the Game 4 clincher of the NL Division Series, was lifted for a pinch-hitter after allowing one unearned run on two hits in six innings while striking out five and using only 72 pitches. The Dodgers got a similar masterpiece from Zack Greinke in Friday's Game 1, but they eventually lost that one in 13 innings.
"I'm more disappointed we wasted two great starts from our aces, and I feel we should have walked out of here with no worse than a split," said Ellis. "That team is battle-tested. They won't back down because of who we send to the mound. They beat our aces, now we've got to beat theirs [Adam Wainwright starts Game 3 for the Cardinals]."
"We're up 2-0," Wainwright said. "But the thing that I know is that team over there is very dangerous, and they're going to want it. And they're going to be hungry when we get to L.A. They're going to want to go out there and give those L.A. fans a good show. So it's going to be very tough. There's no question about it. That team is very good from top to bottom, pitching and hitting. But so are we, and we're very confident, so we can go over there and get the job done. And we have a lot of confidence in that happening. But we've got to do it one game at a time, I know that. We're not looking forward to the end of this series. We're going to look forward to Game 3."
Cardinals rookie Michael Wacha, who nearly threw a no-hitter in his last start against Pittsburgh in Game 4 of the NLDS, went 6 2/3 scoreless innings on five hits with eight strikeouts, and at one point, he retired 14 consecutive batters.
Offensively, well, the Dodgers looked like the calendar had been turned back to the dark days of May. They were 0-for-6 with runners in scoring position, stranding six runners, after going 1-for-10 in Game 1. Going back to the third inning of Game 1, their 19 scoreless innings are the most in a Dodgers postseason since going 33 scoreless frames when they were swept in the 1966 World Series.
"I'm frustrated at the fact we put ourselves in the situation without hitting and coming through," said Gonzalez.
Rookie Yasiel Puig, moved into the cleanup spot with Ramirez out, struck out four times and is 0-for-10 with six strikeouts in the series. Gonzalez, whose removal for a pinch-runner Friday night generated such controversy, was 0-for-3 with two strikeouts and an intentional walk. Gonzalez, Puig and Juan Uribe combined for nine of the Dodgers' 13 strikeouts.
"[Cardinals catcher Yadier Molina] is doing a nice job as far as yo‑yoing him back and forth with breaking balls, then fastballs, and keeping him in the rocking chair," said Mattingly. "That's where I think we see his inexperience kind of come up, how to handle what's going on and what he's looking for. But him at any moment, any swing has a chance to tie that game up or be a big hit. They did a nice job with him. I think he's a little frustrated."
Punto, who took over for Ramirez, was 1-for-3 with two strikeouts and kept the game close with solid defense. Skip Schumaker, starting in center instead of Ethier, went 0-for-3, all groundouts.
"This series is like a microcosm of our season," said Ellis. "We get two well-pitched games by two aces, we scuffle offensively with runners in scoring position and we're fighting the injury bug. In 24 hours, it feels like the 162 games. I hope we can go home and play like we did the 50 games when we were 42-8."
For the Cardinals' only run, David Freese opened the fifth inning with a double into the left-field corner. Freese took third on Ellis' passed ball, and the Cardinals had a runner on third with no outs and the Dodgers' infield in.
"A fastball right down the middle," said Ellis. "I just missed it."
Kershaw struck out Matt Adams with a slider. But Jon Jay, after fouling back a squeeze bunt, drove a slider deep enough to left fielder Carl Crawford for Freese to score the unearned run as Crawford's throw was closer to the mound than the plate.
"They're a good team and they're great at taking advantage of opportunities for sure," said Kershaw. "Give a lot of credit to Wacha. He pitched better than I did and they won, bottom line."
Kershaw tried to take the offense into his own hands in the sixth with a leadoff single off Wacha, and the Cardinals finally made a mistake when Carpenter, after making a diving stop to rob Crawford of a single, threw the ball away when he tried to get Kershaw at second base, even though he had no chance.
Mark Ellis popped up, Gonzalez was walked intentionally and up came Puig, who had already struck out twice. On a 3-2 pitch that would have been ball four, Puig struck out for a third time. Uribe, who struck out the previous inning, also went down swinging at a 1-2 pitch and Wacha escaped.
It was an inning that summed up the Dodgers' offense in these games, and one the team sure would have liked to have tried with a Ramirez at-bat somewhere within it.
"If Hanley's there, they walk Hanley and they pitch to Adrian or vice versa," said Mattingly. "So that's where you miss Hanley today is that's his spot. And if they want to walk Hanley at that point, then they've got to deal with Adrian. So it's different. They're able to walk Adrian and get to the kid and frustrate him."
The Dodgers had another interesting decision when Punto, playing shortstop for Ramirez, singled with two outs in the seventh. That brought up Kershaw, and Mattingly, trailing by a run with two "bench" players injured, pinch-hit Michael Young when Cardinals manager Mike Matheny brought in left-hander Kevin Siegrist for Wacha.
"Well, it wasn't any fun taking him out, honestly, the way he was pitching," Mattingly said. "But I think it was our last chance."
"I understand where Donnie is coming from," Kershaw said. "I get it. Michael Young is one of the best players in the last 10 years."
Punto was wild pitched to second, then to third, and on a 3-2 pitch, Young flew out.
Ken Gurnick is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.