Los Angeles Dodgers shortstop Hanley Ramirez hits a single during...

Los Angeles Dodgers shortstop Hanley Ramirez hits a single during the first inning of Game 3 of the NLCS against the St. Louis Cardinals. (Oct. 14, 2013) Credit: AP

Hanley Ramirez's CT scan revealed what some suspected from the very beginning, a hairline fracture in his eighth rib.

In any other situation, the Dodgers' most dangerous hitter would be on the bench, waiting for his pain to subside. But with his team on the ropes against the Cardinals in the National League Championship Series, Ramirez started Game 3 against the Cardinals Monday night.

"It's no time for laying down,'' said Ramirez, who played shortstop even though it still hurts to laugh.

In Game 1 on Friday, Ramirez was hit by a 95-mph fastball from Cardinals righthander Joe Kelly, leaving him with a cracked rib. In Game 2 on Saturday, Ramirez was held out of the lineup, along with centerfielder Andre Ethier, who has been battling a lingering ankle injury.

But with the Dodgers down 0-2 in this best-of-seven series, both returned to the lineup for the first time since the series opener. Neither took the field at 100 percent.

"You work hard your whole career to get opportunities like this,'' said Ethier, who pinch hit in Game 2. "We're four years removed from our last shot at being here. You don't know when they come.''

With the way the first two games of the series unfolded, the Dodgers desperately needed as much firepower as they could muster against Cardinals ace Adam Wainwright, who was undefeated in six postseason starts.

The Dodgers scored only once in 22 innings in the first two games.

Ramirez was a force against the Braves in their National League Division Series, going 8-for-16 in four games. It was a continuation of what he did during his injury-shortened regular season, when he hit .345 with 20 home runs and 57 RBIs in 89 games.

"We have to win,'' said Ramirez, who was cleared to play only after fielding ground balls and taking batting practice. "Every time I jog or something, I feel it in there. It's tough, it's tough. I don't know how I'm going to do it, but I'll do it.''

Dodgers manager Don Mattingly expressed concern about whether Ramirez could handle the basic tasks that come with hitting, such as checking his swing on a "99-mph fastball that turns into a cutter.''

Still, Ramirez arrived at 11 a.m. to begin his preparations. He spent his afternoon receiving treatment and taking pain-killers.

More than three hours before first pitch, Ramirez warmed up with his team, then took grounders at short. With trainers watching nearby, he fielded balls to his left and right. He threw gingerly across his body when he was forced to backhand a grounder to his right. Otherwise, he moved with no issues.

In the batting cage, he ramped up with every swing. Near the end of his session, he drilled a pitch on a line to the gap in right-center, going into full extension as the ball cleared the fence.

Shortly after hitting, Ramirez declared himself ready. He had been reassured that the only way to make the injury worse was to take another pitch in the same spot.

He consented to wear protective padding, similar to what's used by NFL running backs, and received a loud ovation during pregame introductions. He singled on the first pitch in his first at-bat, dropping a blooper in front of centerfielder Jon Jay.

"Everything they've done for me, they made a trade for me, it meant a lot for me,'' Ramirez said of the Dodgers. "Since Day 1 that I got here, they showed me a lot of love, a lot of respect, you know? I'll do anything for this team and for the city.''

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