LOS ANGELES -- A simple thought went through A.J. Ellis' mind as he watched Matt Holliday redirect Ricky Nolasco's third-inning fastball into the Dodgers' bullpen.
"When you see an executed pitch, like Ricky threw, hit out of the ballpark, it makes you know right away it was the wrong pitch call," Ellis said.
Holliday's two-run homer capped St. Louis' three-run uprising that precipitated Los Angeles' 4-2 loss in Game 4 of the National League Championship Series on Tuesday. It also marred an otherwise capable performance by Nolasco, who allowed no hits during the rest of his four-inning outing.
The Dodgers, who trail the Cardinals in the series, 3-1, elected to start Nolasco despite his prolonged inactivity. He hadn't pitched competitively since Sept. 29, when he worked an inning of relief, and his most recent start was on Sept. 25, against the Giants. Using right-hander Zack Greinke on three days' rest, one fewer than usual, was the alternative, but manager Don Mattingly considered that option risky.
Though Nolasco's first career postseason start was truncated by the necessity to lift him for a pinch-hitter in the fourth inning, he accomplished his task by keeping the score close.
"We felt Ricky would give us a good game," Mattingly said. "We got a game pitched well enough tonight to win."
Nevertheless, Nolasco acknowledged that Holliday's homer was "the difference in the game."
Nolasco began the game knowing that pitching precisely to Holliday would be essential. The left fielder had a .462 batting average against Nolasco in the regular season, with two home runs and seven RBIs.
Retiring Holliday on a foul popup in the first inning fueled Nolasco's confidence. So when Holliday came up again with two outs and Matt Carpenter on second base after hitting a run-scoring double, Nolasco and Ellis figured they'd try what had worked earlier -- an inside fastball.
"He does most of his damage against me and most people on balls away," Nolasco said of Holliday, who has 251 homers in his 10-year career.
Nolasco threw a 92-mph sinker for his first pitch. There wouldn't be a second.
"I obviously would have liked to [get] it more in, but this is the big leagues, and Matt Holliday is a great hitter," Nolasco said. "He made the adjustment. ... He did a good job of just pulling his hands through."
Given another opportunity, Ellis might have altered the approach slightly.
"It almost looked like Matt was looking for it," Ellis said. "He had a good plan, a good approach, and he wasn't going to get beat on the inner half again. Obviously, in hindsight, we should have done something a little different on the first pitch -- maybe start him away with a breaking ball and get back [inside]. But we wanted to get right to it and get him out as quickly as we could."
Nolasco was relatively sharp despite his layoff. The right-hander, who's eligible for free agency, struck out four, walked one and threw 39 of his 58 pitches for strikes.
"I thought my stuff was good, for the most part," he said. "Just that one pitch was the difference in the game."