ST. LOUIS — The plan worked to perfection, through the first round of the playoffs. Then the plan was fractured.
The eighth rib of Hanley Ramirez was fractured. So, too, was the Dodgers' season.
As it turned out, the National League Championship Series did not turn on the fortunes of Yasiel Puig, Clayton Kershaw or Mickey Mouse. The series turned on the ninth pitch of the first game, the fastball that broke a rib.
That was the last the Dodgers saw of Ramirez as an effective player this season. The breathless daily updates about whether he would play obscured the fact that he could neither hit nor field with authority, let alone reclaim his status as the straw that stirred the Dodgers' drink.
"The most important pitch of the series was the one that hit Hanley," Dodgers General Manager Ned Colletti said. "Ten minutes into the series, the dynamic changed dramatically."
So dramatically, in fact, that Dodgers fans floated the name of Joe Kelly as the NLCS most valuable player. Michael Wacha won the award — and deservedly so — but Kelly was the St. Louis Cardinals pitcher who took out Ramirez in the first inning of the first game.
"That's funny," Kelly said. "Not me. Obviously, it was Wacha."
The Dodgers are inclined to take Kelly at his word, that he did not intend to hit the fragile Ramirez.
"It just slipped out of the hand," Kelly said. "I don't know if it changed the series or not. I guess it was a factor. I'm not sure."
The Dodgers resuscitated themselves in June, when Ramirez came off the disabled list for the second time this season — broken thumb first, strained hamstring later — and called up Puig. Ramirez had another hamstring issue late in the season, and an irritated nerve in his back too.
Still, he hit .345 with 20 home runs in 86 games — that is, basically half a season. So the Dodgers put him in bubble wrap in the final weeks of the season. In the 19 days preceding the first round of the playoffs, he had 20 at-bats.
In the NL division series, Ramirez batted .500 in 16 at-bats, with six extra-base hits and two strikeouts.
In the NLCS, he batted .133 in 15 at-bats, with no extra-base hits and five strikeouts.
"This guy was the most dangerous hitter in the National League," Dodgers catcher A.J. Ellis said. "You saw what he did in the first round of the playoffs.
"Could he have changed something? Possibly. At the end of the day, the Cardinals beat us because we didn't score runs."
The Dodgers looked up at a 9-0 score Friday, and they could not blame the end of their season on one guy. Even Superman cannot hit a nine-run home run.
Puig batted .227. Andre Ethier batted .150, Juan Uribe .130, Mark Ellis .240.
Ramirez and his .133 average fit right in.
"It's not like we were hitting up and down the lineup," Dodgers utility man Skip Schumaker said. He wasn't the only one who wasn't hitting."
Mark Ellis wasn't quite sure how much to blame the loss of the series on the loss of Ramirez. He noted the Cardinals played the entire series without All-Star first baseman Allen Craig, but he was not shy about saying what a healthy Ramirez could do.
"Hanley is an incredible player, very dynamic," Mark Ellis said. "He can change a game with one swing of the bat."
Maybe he would have, maybe not. But he never got the chance.
On the last day of the season, Ramirez was out of the original lineup, then talked his way in. He did not get a hit. He declined to speak with reporters after the game, lingering in a room across the hallway from the clubhouse.
His teammates showered, dressed and left the ballpark. He sat there, in that room.
There was nothing he could do to help the Dodgers. That, as it turned out, was the story of the series.
Twitter: @BillShaikinCopyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times