There was some concern leading up to Ryu's outing Sunday night after the left-hander threw a bullpen session prior to Game 2 on Friday in Atlanta. Not only does Ryu typically not throw bullpens between starts, but this particular session came under the watchful eye of team surgeon Neal ElAttrache, director of medical services Stan Conte and manager Don Mattingly.
On Sunday, a sold-out crowd at Dodger Stadium watched Ryu allow four runs on six hits and one walk, while lasting only three innings in the Dodgers' 13-6 victory over the Braves. Still, Ryu claimed that he's 100 percent healthy and had no restrictions on the mound.
"There was absolutely no injury whatsoever; and of course, there was anxiety, and I was a little bit nervous taking the mound," Ryu said through his interpreter. "But I think in the earlier part of the game when I had the count going my way, I think I should have honed in and focused a little more. I think that's the mistakes that I made."
The first inning has hindered Ryu for much of the regular season, and Sunday night wasn't any different.
Ryu finished the regular season with a 5.10 ERA in the first inning of his 30 starts. By comparison, the only other frame in which he had an ERA even above 3.00 was the sixth (3.28).
Atlanta exploited his early-game troubles in Game 3, jumping on the southpaw for two runs on three hits and a walk in the opening frame. Ryu bounced back to retire the side in order in the second, and the Dodgers rallied in the bottom half of the inning to stake him to a 4-2 lead.
Ryu gave it all back in the top of the very next inning, conceding two runs on three hits again, while also making a pair of defensive miscues. With the bases load and nobody out, Ryu induced a potential double-play ground ball to first baseman Adrian Gonzalez. Yet in attempting to cover first base on the relay, Ryu missed the bag with his foot.
One batter later, Braves third baseman Chris Johnson hit a tapper up the first-base line. Ryu charged off the mound to field the ball, but instead of taking the forceout at first base, he elected to throw the ball to home plate, where Freddie Freeman slid in safely well ahead of the throw to catcher A.J. Ellis.
"Both incidents in the top of the third were completely my fault. Me covering first base, I just rushed and I missed the bag," Ryu said. "The next play, throwing, I tossed it to home -- just a thoughtless mistake there. I'm going to make sure those things don't happen again."
Mattingly made the decision to end Ryu's night in the bottom of the third, calling on pinch-hitter Michael Young to hit in Ryu's place with two on and two outs. Sunday's poor outing aside, Mattingly said he would have no reserves about sending Ryu to the mound in his usual rotation spot if the Dodgers advance to the National League Championship Series.
"You know, if we can win -- put another win on the board, then he gets another opportunity," Mattingly said. "We don't turn our back on guys that have had great seasons for us after one game. So, yeah, he's part of what we do."
Despite his rookie classification, Sunday was far from the first time that Ryu had pitched on a big stage. A seven-time All-Star in the Korea Baseball Organization, Ryu was also the winning pitcher in Korea's gold medal-clinching game at the 2008 Beijing Olympics. He also went 1-0 with a 2.57 ERA for the Korea team that finished in second place at the 2009 World Baseball Classic.
Mattingly had said leading up to Game 3 that he hoped Ryu would be able to draw on those big-game performances on Sunday night. Ryu, however, admitted after the Dodgers' victory that the postseason brought with it an entirely different atmosphere.
"I felt a little more anxious than compared to those games," Ryu said of the Olympics and World Baseball Classic outings. "Today was a little bit more intense. I just feel it's really unfortunate that in front of our fans, I wasn't able to perform at a better level. If I get a chance to play again here or pitch again here at Dodger Stadium, I'll be sure to perform better."
Whether or not Ryu throws another bullpen session between now and that potential start remains to be seen, but he was adamant following Game 3 that nothing should be made out of his last one. Ryu claimed that nothing held him back physically on Sunday night nor would it in any possible NLCS start.
"I was fully confident that my body was fine," Ryu said. "I know myself better than anyone else if I'm not hurt. Doesn't matter what people say. I'm not hurt, so it wasn't a distraction at all."