LOS ANGELES -- If you had told the Atlanta Braves Sunday morning that they would rough up Los Angeles Dodgers starter Hyun-Jin Ryu for four runs and knock him out of pivotal Game 3 of the NL Division Series after just three innings, they'd have felt pretty good about their chances.
They lost in a laugher.
The Dodgers thumped the Braves 13-6 in a wild game at Chavez Ravine Sunday night to take a 2-1 lead in this best-of-five series, and now all that stands between Atlanta and a long offseason is the arm of a 37-year-old journeyman starting pitcher who spent most of this season in the minor leagues. Freddy Garcia will take the ball for the Braves in Game 4 in Los Angeles on Monday to try to help them stave off elimination.
Atlanta certainly had a golden opportunity to take a series lead Sunday night and recapture home-field advantage. The Braves struck early in the first inning when Justin Upton doubled over Dodgers center fielder Skip Schumaker's head. Two batters later, Evan Gattis singled him home. Then, Brian McCann walked, and Chris Johnson singled Gattis home.
"I didn't have my best, and I tried my best," said Teheran, who had a fantastic first season in the big leagues, posting a 3.20 ERA and striking out 170 in 185⅔ innings. "It was just one of those games that you do everything, and the things don't go as you expect."
If the Braves hope to force a Game 5 in Atlanta on Wednesday, they'll need Garcia to do much better. The Venezuelan began the season with the Padres but was cut in spring training. He then signed with the Orioles but was demoted to their Triple-A Norfolk affiliate in June after posting a 5.77 ERA in 53 innings.
Baltimore traded Garcia to the Braves for cash in late August, and he was added to the big league roster as a September call-up. He earned a spot on the Braves postseason roster by pitching excellently down the stretch, posting a 1.65 ERA with 20 strikeouts in 27⅓ innings.
"We've got a lot of faith in him," said catcher McCann of Garcia's Game 4 chances. "He's been there and done that. He's pitched in every situation you could possibly pitch in. We know what we have to do."
Garcia, who has thrown 2,264 innings in his career and gone 6-3 with a 3.28 ERA in 10 career postseason starts, says he is unfazed by the pressure of pitching on the road in an elimination game. "I'm the kind of guy who relaxes on the mound," Garcia said after Game 3. "I don't panic. I just go out there and pitch."
His task will not be easy. To force the series back to Atlanta, Garcia will have to neutralize a scorching-hot Dodgers lineup that is collectively hitting .333, slugging .524 and getting on base at a .390 clip this series against a pitching staff that posted the best ERA (3.18) in baseball this season. (The Braves are hitting just .221 this series, slugging .284 and have a .308 OBP.)
"They're an aggressive, good-hitting club that hits every mistake," Garcia said. When asked if he has any ideas regarding how to stop the Dodgers offense after watching them torch his rotation mate in Game 3, he stood by his locker and smiled. "I can't tell you my plan," he said. "You'll have to wait and see tomorrow."
Making matters even more difficult, the Dodgers had yet to announce Sunday night whether they would start Ricky Nolasco in Game 4 versus Garcia as planned or bring back ace and likely 2013 NL Cy Young winner Clayton Kershaw to try to close out the series on three days' rest. Kershaw has been nothing short of brilliant in his short career, leading the National League in ERA the past three seasons and posting an infinitesimal 1.83 ERA this season. But the 25-year-old has never pitched on short rest, and it's far from guaranteed he'd be himself. From 2005 to 2011, pitchers going on three days' rest in the postseason were 6-10.
Should the Braves win Monday against Nolasco, they'd face Kershaw on regular rest in Atlanta in Game 5. If the Dodgers throw Kershaw on Monday and the Braves beat him, they'll force a series finale versus Zack Greinke on regular rest. But the Braves aren't looking that far ahead.
"We need to win [Monday] or we go home," right fielder Justin Upton said. "That's the bottom line."