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Dodgers ready for challenge of facing Wainwright

Players consider Game 3 a must-win, hope to tap Cards ace early

LOS ANGELES -- If Monday's Game 3 of the National League Championship Series were a prizefight, one corner would be occupied by Adam Wainwright, St. Louis' formidable right-hander.

In the other corner would be something intangible: the Los Angeles Dodgers' collective attitude, which must remain relentlessly positive if they're to break through against the Cardinals' ace.

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"You don't ever put anybody on a pedestal when you're out there competing," Los Angeles utility man Nick Punto said Sunday after the Dodgers conducted a brief workout.

That includes Wainwright, who led the NL with 19 victories and 241 2/3 innings this year before improving his career postseason record to 4-0 with a 2.03 ERA in 15 appearances by defeating Pittsburgh twice in the Division Series.

Having endured 19 consecutive scoreless innings in this series, the Dodgers know they must scratch out a few runs against Wainwright or St. Louis' respectable bullpen to avoid the brink of postseason elimination.

"We have no way else to look at it. We have to win tomorrow," Dodgers utility man Skip Schumaker said Sunday. "You don't want to be three games out in a seven-game series. It's a must-win game against their best pitcher, which is not an easy task."

Said Punto, "He knows our backs are against the wall. We all know that. We know there's going to be a lot of pressure on us tomorrow night. But the Cardinals are going to have a lot of pressure on them, playing in front of 54,000 people. It's like a 10th man on the field for us, we know that. This place gets rocking. We're going to need that energy."

Scoring early will enable the Dodgers to engage their fans and generate that enthusiastic atmosphere. In fact, in eight of Wainwright's nine regular-season losses this year, opponents scored at least two runs by the fourth inning.

"We're going to have to get some momentum early in the game," Dodgers catcher A.J. Ellis said.

Of course, Wainwright intends to prevent that.

"He has a game plan with every hitter," Punto said. "He's very smart. He and Yadi [Cardinals catcher Yadier Molina] will study hitters, study over here. He knows exactly how to get you out. If you can find out early [how], you'll be able to attack him."

As a former Cardinal, Punto spoke from experience.

"Yadier and I will get together and come up with a master plan," Wainwright said.

Schumaker, another ex-Cardinal, recalled that on the rare occasions when Wainwright struggled, he experienced the shortcomings common to all pitchers -- elevating his deliveries and throwing pitches that caught too much of home plate. As for Wainwright's devastating curveball, Schumaker said, "Hopefully you can recognize it early."

The Dodgers can fortify themselves with the memory of Aug. 5, when they beat Wainwright in their only 2013 encounter -- though it was still a pitching-dominated 3-2 affair.

Even without this experience, feeling intimidated by Wainwright would not be an option for the Dodgers.

"It's always a good challenge," Dodgers second baseman Mark Ellis said. "It's something that you look forward to as a hitter. You look forward to moments like this, when you get to face the best guys."

Chris Haft is a reporter for Read his blog, Haft-Baked Ideas, and follow him on Twitter at @sfgiantsbeat.

Los Angeles Dodgers, A.J. Ellis, Nick Punto, Skip Schumaker, Adam Wainwright