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A little momentum could go long way for Dodgers

With Game 3 win, LA has chance to change course of NLCS against Cardinals @philgrogers

LOS ANGELES -- By the time darkness had fallen on Dodger Stadium on Monday, the Dodgers had done what they needed to do to keep the Cardinals from turning out the lights.

There's a lot more work to do if they're going to bring the World Series to Chavez Ravine for the first time since 1988, but with Hanley Ramirez gutting it out and Yasiel Puig hamming it up, Don Mattingly's team made a statement to the guys in the other dugout.

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Not so fast.

In the Wild Card era, the League Championship Series has generally been the most closely contested round. Eight of 20 since 2003 have gone the full seven games, with the Cardinals involved in three of those. They'd love to do shorter work this time around than their epic battles with the Giants in 2012, Mets in 2006 and Astros in '04, but Game 3's Hyun-Jin Ryu over Adam Wainwright result just gave it a chance to turn into a classic.

"It gets us on the board," Mattingly said after the Dodgers' 3-0 victory. "That is the main thing. Obviously, [Wainwright] is a big-game pitcher that's got quality stuff, and he's a handful every time you face him. So the significance for us is being able to get on the board, grab a little momentum on our side of the field. They're still up 2-1 on us, but it puts a win on our side of the board. If we can go play well tomorrow night and continue to pitch the way we have, put some runs up, then it just keeps coming our way then. So once you get the momentum, you just like to hold on to it."

Ryu pitched with a calm that eluded him in the National League Division Series, and -- in typical fashion for this autumn when infielders played in -- one big inning was enough for the Dodgers to beat the Cardinals ace. There was little margin for error and the St. Louis fielders -- center fielder Jon Jay, in particular -- flinched under pressure.

Adrian Gonzalez, one of the healthy Dodgers who felt they should have won at least one game in St. Louis behind Zack Greinke and Clayton Kershaw, started the fourth-inning craziness with a big fist pump after his double scored Mark Ellis, who had double. The Dodger Stadium crowd of 53,940 fans erupted when Puig followed with a triple that he celebrated twice, flipping his bat at home plate and then dancing into third base after the ball caromed away from Carlos Beltran.

Don't blame the Dodgers for being excited. They were looking at possibly being swept if they lost Game 3 and now have shown this series is a lot closer than was evident when Ryu went to the mound.

"It's huge," Gonzalez said of beating Wainwright. "They beat Kersh and Greinke. So for us to do the same to their guy, it's huge. Today was pretty much a must-win game for us, and we were able to get it done, which sets us up in a better position going forward in the series."

If Ricky Nolasco can beat Lance Lynn in Tuesday's Game 4, the Dodgers will have given themselves a solid chance to run the tables on the re-rack. They have their twin Cy Young winners, Greinke and Kershaw, slated to start in Game 5 and, if they can get there, Game 6.

Those two guys held St. Louis to two earned runs in 14 innings at Busch Stadium, when the Cardinals won, 3-2, in 13 innings and 1-0 behind rookie Michael Wacha. The pair is not going to be a lot of fun to face the second time around.

No one knows that better than Mike Matheny. A year ago, in his first year as the Cardinals' manager, he watched his team take a 3-1 lead in the NLCS only to score one run in the last three games against the San Francisco Giants' Barry Zito, Ryan Vogelsong and Matt Cain. The Cardinals had four hits Monday and are hitting .134 in the series.

Had the Cardinals been able to do something against Ryu, they might have been able to get the Dodgers to unravel. Mattingly had said on Sunday there was no thought of using Greinke on three days' rest in Game 4, but before Monday night's game, he hinted that the Dodgers' decision-making council had put at least some consideration of that in play.

"Ricky is ready to go," Mattingly said. "I'll probably be able to tell you a lot more after the game. ... Yes, today's results may have something to do [with the pitching plan]."

It's hard to be patient in October, but when dealing with pitching that's almost always the right approach. The Dodgers played with fire in the NLDS and put away the Braves with Kershaw working on short rest in Game 4, but it took a late home run from Juan Uribe for that decision to look smart.

No matter now. The Cardinals just let the Dodgers get back on their feet.

Ramirez, who was diagnosed with a broken rib on his left side after being drilled by Joe Kelly in the opener, went 2-for-4 while heavily medicated and wearing a flak jacket. His bloop single in the first welcomed Wainwright to the Dodgers' neighborhood, and his single to center off Seth Maness in the eighth inning drove in an insurance run.

Not knowing whether he would be able to get back in the lineup after missing Game 2, Ramirez had said Sunday that baseball is bigger than one man, pointing out this "isn't tennis." Maybe not, but after holding serve on Monday the Dodgers get a chance to break serve against Lynn.

"I think the playoffs are a one day momentum swings," Mattingly said. "Every day changes with momentum. Right now, I feel like we've kind of grabbed it."

If the Cardinals don't start hitting soon, the Dodgers just might ride this little bit of momentum all the way to the World Series.

Phil Rogers is a columnist for

Los Angeles Dodgers, Adrian Gonzalez, Zack Greinke, Clayton Kershaw, Yasiel Puig, Hyun-Jin Ryu