Dodgers pushed to the brink

LOS ANGELES – Los Angeles Dodgers manager Don Mattingly said he spent all day Monday thinking about whether to start Ricky Nolasco or Zack Greinke in Game 4 of the National League Championship Series against the St. Louis Cardinals.

In the third inning of Game 3, Mattingly made up his mind: He would go with Nolasco rather than rush Greinke to the mound on three days' rest.

"I just didn't feel good about doing it," Mattingly said.

It's hard to say whether Mattingly will one day rue that decision, but Greinke will certainly play a hand in trying to make sure he doesn't. After Tuesday night's 4-2 loss in Game 4, the Dodgers stand on the verge of elimination. Greinke is the first man up, followed by Clayton Kershaw and Hyun-Jin Ryu, the Dodgers' three best pitchers.

They have to win them all or their season is over. The Dodgers haven't won three games in a row since Sept. 21-24. They might have to do it without their best player. Hanley Ramirez, playing with a hairline fracture in one of his ribs, looked out of sorts all evening, striking out three times, and left the game in the seventh inning after consulting with a Dodgers trainer.

It certainly hasn't been pitching that has let the Dodgers down.

Ramirez was replaced at shortstop by Nick Punto, who doubled to center field in the eighth, but was picked off second by reliever Carlos Martinez.

Nolasco was making his first start in three weeks and taking the mound for the first time since Sept. 29. The Dodgers were aware they weren't putting him in ideal circumstances.

He did about as well as you would expect. He cruised through the first two innings but gave up a leadoff hit to Daniel Descalso in the third and an RBI double to Matt Carpenter.The big mistake, however, perhaps the defining mistake of this season for the Dodgers, was a 91-mph fastball in the heart of the plate to Matt Holliday.

The Cardinals' No. 3 hitter took a vicious cut and caught it squarely, sending the ball on a magnificent arc toward the back of the Dodgers' bullpen, 423 feet from home plate.

The Dodgers rallied in the fourth to cut the St. Louis lead to 3-2. Shortly after Lance Lynn sent Yasiel Puig spinning out of the way with an up-and-in fastball, Puig singled past the outstretched glove of Descalso into center field to bring in one run and A.J. Ellis also had an RBI single. At that point, Mattingly took his shot. He pinch hit for Nolasco, but Skip Schumaker hit into an inning-ending double play.

Dodgers pinch hitters are 1-for-12 with five strikeouts this postseason.

St. Louis didn't have a hit after the third inning until pinch hitter Shane Robinson's home run off J.P. Howell with one out in the seventh. The ball hit the top of the wall.