ST. LOUIS -- As befitting a team from Los Angeles with a monster payroll, when the Dodgers go out of a series, they go out big.
The Dodgers put their ace on the mound and put their hard-hitting shortstop in the lineup despite a hairline fracture of a rib that made everything he did painful, and gave it their best shot, which lasted until the third inning.
That's when Clayton Kershaw went completely overboard for what may have been the worst inning of his career. The Dodgers lost, 9-0, with a failure offensively to overcome their problems on the mound and were eliminated from the National League championship series.
"I didn't have it today," Kershaw said in the very dry visitor's clubhouse at Busch Stadiuim. "If you give up that many runs, you're not going to win games, so it's on me.
"I'm disappointed. It's hard when you know guys have worked so hard to get here. You've got guys, I wanted to win it for them. It's a great group of guys. I never had more fun playing baseball. Just the group of guys we have in here is so special. I wanted to be part of the solution, I wanted to get those guys there. ... It's a tough pill to swallow."
Kershaw's line was seven runs allowed in four innings, with 10 hits allowed and two walks. It was only the second time in his career that he lasted four innings or fewer and allowed at least seven runs.
Kershaw, the presumed NL Cy Young Award winner, may have had his worst inning of the season in the third, allowing four runs, more than he had in any other inning this season and more than he had in 30 of his 33 starts this season. He threw 48 pitches in the inning, and Dodgers manager Don Mattingly had his bullpen warming up behind Kershaw, who was at 81 pitches through three innings.
"It's funny how the season, everything you do comes to a screeching halt all of a sudden," Mattingly said. "Clayton seemed like early he was OK, and then after the (Matt) Carpenter at-bat, I felt like that was just a tremendous at-bat. ... From there, it seemed like the flood gates opened."
"We were expecting a typical Clayton game," said catcher A.J. Ellis, who described himself as shell-shocked by the result. "Things just kind of spun out of control there a little bit, it was hard to get that third out in the inning. We had some pitches go against us that we thought could have been called strikes to get us out of there earlier, but it still didn't matter. We didn't score any runs."
If Kershaw was blaming himself, the Dodgers' hitters took a different stance. Namely, since they didn't score, it's on them.
"All they needed was the one run the way we swung the bats today," first baseman Adrian Gonzalez said. "The only thing we couldn't do was hit. It didn't really matter what happened after they scored a run. If you only score two runs in three games in St. Louis, there's not much you can do other than hit the ball better. If you don't score runs, you don't win.
"It's frustrating with the way we didn't score runs here. We had (Zack) Greinke, Kershaw give great outings and we didn't do anything for them."
There were defensive issues as well. For all the electricity he generates, Yasiel Puig remains a very raw talent, with a great many rough spots that need to be sanded down. The Cardinals' four-run third inning was emblematic of that, as Puig made an off-balance running throw toward the plate on Carlos Beltran's RBI single that missed the cutoff man and allowed Beltran to reach second. Then on Shane Robinson's single to right with two out, Puig's throw to the plate was well over the head of catcher A.J. Ellis, allowing runners to move to second and third, though they didn't score. Puig has a great arm, but the Dodgers have been working all season to get him to tame it, and this was an example of what will no doubt be a major focus in spring training. Puig made another error in the fifth. It looked like he was thinking about trying to throw Yadier Molina out at first on a hit to medium right, but his poke at the ball went off his glove and allowed Molina to reach second.
"Errors are part of the game," Puig said in a three-question postgame session. "The one thing that stood out is every run, at bat, play in the field is very important. You have to make sure you do the best on each chance you get."
About 30 minutes before the game, Mattingly changed his lineup, putting Hanley Ramirez in at shortstop and batting cleanup. Ramirez's health has been a frequent topic in this series, ever since he got hit by Joe Kelly in the side with a pitch in the first inning of Game 1. Ramirez finished that game, but sat out Game 2 and, upon getting back to Los Angeles, was found to have a hairline fracture of a rib. Ramirez, in obvious pain, played the three games in Los Angeles, but by Games 4 and 5, the impact on his game was evident as he either struck out or hit harmless ground balls.
Mattingly had hoped that having more than two days off would reduce some of the pain Ramirez faced, but that wasn't the case. Mattingly kept Ramirez out of his initial lineup, though he said it was a possibility that if Ramirez felt better by game time, he could play. Mattingly also admitted that over the past three games, Ramirez's at-bats didn't look very good. Ramirez didn't come out to take batting practice, but an apparently intense round of treatment in the clubhouse got him ready to go.
Ramirez flew out to center in the second inning, the furthest he'd hit the ball since Game 1, popped out to second to end the fourth and flew out to center in the seventh.
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