Runs have come at a trickle through the first three games, with the nine combined runs the fewest ever through the same span of a league championship series. Los Angeles hadn't scored since the third inning of Game 1.
It hasn't been a good series for pitching aces either. Los Angeles started its pair Zack Greinke and Clayton Kershaw in Games 1 and 2, and lost in St. Louis. The Cardinals went with Wainwright on the road, and were beaten.
"It's the great thing about the game of baseball that you can talk about this is what should happen, but it never does play out that way," said Adrian Gonzalez, whose RBI double ended a 1-for-17 drought for the Dodgers with runners in scoring position.
Los Angeles trimmed its deficit to 2-1 in the best-of-seven series.
Game 4 is Tuesday at Dodger Stadium, with Ricky Nolasco scheduled to make his postseason debut against St. Louis right-hander Lance Lynn.
"Everybody's trying to do the best they can to get to the World Series," Dodgers rookie Yasiel Puig said through a translator.
Rookie Hyun-Jin Ryu outpitched Wainwright with seven innings of three-hit ball, and Puig celebrated twice on his RBI triple for the Dodgers. An ailing Hanley Ramirez added a run-scoring hit as Los Angeles handed Wainwright his first postseason loss.
"The playoffs are one-day momentum swings," Dodgers manager Don Mattingly said. "Right now I feel like we've kind of grabbed it."
Puig's youthful exuberance, which energized the Dodgers as they surged from last place to first during a torrid midseason stretch, was on full display in the fourth inning.
The 22-year-old Cuban defector was so excited when he connected that he raised his arms immediately and stood in the batter's box to watch the flight of the ball toward right field, clearly thinking it was going out of the park.
Once he realized it wasn't, Puig started charging. He roared into third base and clapped his hands before raising them again as the sellout crowd of 53,940 cheered.
Puig had reason to exult, having struck out seven times in the series before getting his first hit.
"He brings unbelievable energy every day," Ramirez said. "When we spoke to him, he told me, 'I got it today,' and he did. He's a great player."
Los Angeles got Ramirez and center fielder Andre Ethier back in the lineup after both proved in batting practice they were healthy enough to play. Ramirez hit by a pitch from Joe Kelly in Game 1 wore a lightweight flak jacket to protect his broken left rib, while Ethier has been bothered by shin splints. He went 0 for 4 with a strikeout.
"This time of year you can't let down," Ramirez said. "You got to keep going all the way."
Ramirez singled his first time up off Wainwright and then helped the Dodgers extend their lead to 3-0 in the eighth.
Ramirez hit a soft single off Seth Maness over the head of second baseman Kolten Wong to score Carl Crawford. The speedy Crawford, on second base after a one-out single, rounded third and never stopped running when the throw from the outfield went to second base.
On a close play at the plate, Crawford barely beat the tag by catcher Yadier Molina.
"We just had a lot of balls in the air tonight that hit the ground that normally don't," Cardinals manager Mike Matheny said. "We're a better club than this."
During the rally, retired Dodgers manager Tom Lasorda, whose 1988 team won the franchise's last World Series title, stood up and waved his white rally towel to raucous applause.
"We just knew we had to scratch away and get a win," Dodgers catcher A.J. Ellis said. "We needed a great starting pitching performance from Hyun-Jin, and we got that. You knew it was going to be tough sledding against a guy like Adam. He's so good, especially on the big stage, so we were fortunate we scratched a couple of runs across."
Wainwright entered 4-0 with a 2.03 ERA and four saves in 15 career postseason games, including six starts. He pitched St. Louis past Pittsburgh in the division series, going the distance in a decisive Game 5 last Wednesday.
The right-hander tossed seven strong innings this time, allowing two runs and six hits with five strikeouts and no walks. Ryu, however, was even better.
"I hate to lose," Wainwright said. "I felt like tonight if I had got a couple of balls in there, we win the game. I think you just have to tip your hat and move on."
The two pitchers were nearly even through the first three scoreless innings, with Wainwright giving up one hit. Ryu, who struggled in his first postseason start in the division series against Atlanta, retired 12 of his first 13 batters, yielding only a walk.
"I just zoned in," Ryu said.
Ryu was much improved after lasting just three innings as the first South Korean pitcher to start a playoff game last week against the Braves. He allowed four runs on six hits for a no-decision in a game the Dodgers won.
The left-hander didn't permit a Cardinals runner past second base. David Freese's single to right leading off the fifth was their first hit of the game.
Freese was replaced by a pinch-runner because of tightness in his right calf. He is day to day.
Ryu struck out four and walked one.
Kenley Jansen pitched a perfect ninth for a save.
After the first two games in St. Louis were decided by one run, the Dodgers got to Wainwright in the fourth and took a 2-0 lead.
Gonzalez's double down the right-field line scored Mark Ellis, who doubled leading off. Gonzalez smacked his hands together in a celebratory gesture resembling an explosion.
"I saw Adrian doing some Mickey Mouse stuff at second," Wainwright said.
Gonzalez replied: "I did what I always do. Mickey Mouse is only an hour away so, you know, it fits us."
With two outs, Puig tripled off the wall in right to snap his 0-for-11 skid in the series.
NOTES: The Dodgers' 0.92 team ERA through three games in the series was the best the club has recorded through that span in a NLCS. ... Dodgers RHP Brian Wilson has 16.2 scoreless innings pitched in his postseason career. ... Neither team has homered through the first three games, a first in NLCS history. ... The Dodgers' two triples tied the club record for a single NLCS game.