For another night, at least, Dodgers keep playoff dream from bursting

LOS ANGELES – This is life by a thread, which is better than none at all.

A line drive deflects off the second baseman's glove into center field in the ninth inning, a winning run scores, a mob forms on the infield and tomorrow is alive.

That's it.

The Los Angeles Dodgers, of bottomless resources in the checkbook and two months of underachieving on the diamond, and chasing the soft spot on the National League side of the postseason schematic, are the last bubble team remaining.

They are so by virtue of their 3-2 win against the San Francisco Giants on Monday night, and their six-game winning streak, and the very friendly second NL wild card.

They win two more against the Giants, the St. Louis Cardinals lose their final two games to the Cincinnati Reds – in St. Louis – and the Dodgers and Cardinals would play Thursday afternoon at Dodger Stadium to advance to Friday's wild-card game in Atlanta.

That's almost certainly beneath what the Dodgers had in mind when they traded for Hanley Ramirez and Shane Victorino, then for Adrian Gonzalez, Josh Beckett and Carl Crawford, and for Brandon League, and yet here they are: Better than done, but only just barely.

"I wish we had more time," manager Don Mattingly said, "because the road keeps winding down."

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The miracle the Dodgers paid for, played for, maybe even prayed for, it would have to begin with performing to something like their capability. It eluded them until nearly a week ago.

By the time they reached the third inning Monday night, when they trailed Matt Cain and the Giants by a run, the Cardinals had finished off the Reds. All the Dodgers could do, then, was beat the Giants and in two more days forge a tie with the Cardinals.

Here is where their hope lies:

Mat Latos beats the Cardinals on Tuesday night, the Dodgers beat Barry Zito a couple hours later, Homer Bailey beats the Cardinals on Wednesday and the Dodgers get the ball to Clayton Kershaw on the same afternoon.

The Cardinals, meantime, hand their season to their veterans – Chris Carpenter first, then, if necessary, Adam Wainwright. That is their comfort, and why a Dodgers' postseason is the longest of shots.

But, on a night the Tampa Bay Rays, Chicago White Sox and Los Angeles Angels had their seasons die, on a night the Detroit Tigers, Washington Nationals and Oakland A's toasted themselves, the Dodgers threw a bucket of ice water on Elian Herrera and had reason to return the next day.

"It's that simple," Dodgers catcher A.J. Ellis said. "If we don't win, it's over. We've known that for a long time. We had to run the table to even be in this position."

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Funny thing, they also played themselves to a place where winning might not be good enough.

Their best players weren't good enough. Some were hurt. Some were new. For a very long time, almost none of them hit. So they were buried in the division, and then they were all but done as runners-up, and only then did they start to play. For six days they averaged more than six runs a game, only to look up to discover it probably was too late.

"There's satisfaction in it, along with frustration," Ellis said. "Obviously we're not out of it yet. But there are times when you think about what could have been and what we could have done as players. The onus is on us. We could have been a little more accountable."

Ultimately, he said of the bad baseball and the resulting losses, "It was about our inability to stop it. Just rolling with it."

Post-game, one clubhouse television showed a replay of the Dodgers dog-piling Herrera, who had the game-winning hit. The other showed the A's in a real celebration, the kind that lasts for a good while.

The Dodgers are a long ways from the second kind, and could use that miracle right about now.

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