Stoic Ryu silences doubts with stellar NLCS outing
Fatigue questions answered with seven scoreless innings vs. Cards
LOS ANGELES -- What strikes Dodgers catcher A.J. Ellis about Hyun-Jin Ryu is the Korean rookie's stoicism. Win or loss, cruise or struggle, Ryu's expression rarely changes. As players and pundits around baseball debate Yasiel Puig's every move, Ryu is the anti-Puig.
So it was worth noting Ryu's reaction in the seventh inning Monday, as manager Don Mattingly walked out of the dugout presumably to end his night. Ryu had already recorded 20 outs, destroying any notion that he might struggle for a second consecutive postseason start.
As Mattingly reached the mound and asked him if he had one more batter in him, Ryu began vigorously nodding his head.
"You saw the adamant nodding," Ellis said. "He was ready to go. He wanted to empty the tank right there. He was more than ready to finish his deal."
Ryu did, striking out Matt Adams on a 91 mph fastball that typified his night. In many ways the Dodgers' last line of defense, Ryu challenged St. Louis' hitters throughout the evening to win his first career playoff game, leading the Dodgers to a 3-0 National League Championship Series Game 3 victory that shaved the series deficit to 2-1.
"His emotions have been consistent the entire season," Ellis said. "That's a credit to him and the way he was raised and the way he was developed as a baseball player. You'd never know what the score is by his body language and the way he handles himself on the mound. That's the mark of a really mature pitcher who understands what his job is to do."
Ryu's job in Game 3 was simple: Keep his team's fading World Series hopes alive. So it was immediately encouraging for the Dodgers to see him dial his fastball as high as 95 mph, replacing the loopy curveball that he featured against the Braves with a sharper, deadlier pitch in Game 3.
Armed with those offerings, Ryu did not allow a hit until the fifth inning, when David Freese dumped a single into right field. And he did not allow a run at all, holding the Cardinals to three hits and a walk over seven innings.
"He's thrown a couple of good games against us," Cardinals manager Mike Matheny said. "He threw the ball well today and didn't make a lot of mistakes. We couldn't get anything going. He controlled the counts, controlled the plate, did what he wanted to against us."
"When a pitcher is capable of throwing any pitch in any count, it's very difficult," added Cards outfielder Carlos Beltran. "He kept us off balance all night."
Ryu said the win ranked among the most significant of his career, comparing it to games he pitched for the Korean national team during the Olympics and World Baseball Classic. And he knew he had a chance at it early. Warming in the Dodger Stadium bullpen prior to the game, Ryu said he felt that his "fastball was on point."
His body was also "in good condition," which was worth noting as well. Though the Dodgers stood by Ryu heading into Game 3, concern was palpable given the growing chorus of doubts about his health. The Dodgers watched Ryu's between-starts bullpen sessions with interest. Media members, many of them Korean natives, dissected his every move. Accusations of fatigue bounced around Chavez Ravine, considering the cumulative effects of Ryu's debut season in the United States.
Rookies in general often tire in October due to the novelty of their workloads; Minor League teams typically end their seasons in early September. The Korea Professional Baseball season is only 128 games long, compared to Major League Baseball's 162-game slate. So it would have been understandable for Ryu to have exhausted his supply of regular unleaded.
What's more, Ryu was matched up Monday against Adam Wainwright and his 2.03 career postseason ERA. He understood that anything short of his best effort might not fly.
So he simply responded with his best, complete with a brief show of emotion in the seventh.
Stoicism quickly returned after Ryu retired Adams, and Ryu remained mostly quiet until his postgame press conference, when he was asked whether any of Mattingly's words motivated him. Before his interpreter could translate the question into Korean, Ryu began shaking his head vigorously -- no nods this time -- and laughing.