Luis Cruz and the Los Angeles Dodgers are showing the kind of spunk and tenacity that hasn't been seen around Chavez Ravine for quite a while, and now the playoffs aren't such a far-fetched possibility after all. Far from it.
Cruz came up with his second clutch hit in two nights, a tying two-out RBI double in the ninth inning, and pinch-hitter Juan Rivera followed with a run-scoring single to lift the Dodgers to a 4-3 victory over the St. Louis Cardinals on Saturday night.
The Dodgers' third victory in 10 games tied them with the Cardinals for the second wild card spot with 16 remaining for both clubs. The Cardinals lost despite a homer and three RBIs by Allen Craig.
''This was pretty big. It was definitely one of our most exciting games of the season so far,'' center fielder Matt Kemp said. ''Cruz has definitely been amazing for us. He's been hitting the ball, getting those big hits for us and doing what it takes to win. That was an all-around good team win for us.''
After this four-game series concludes on Sunday, the Cards will play their next nine games against the Astros and Cubs - who are a combined 83 games under .500 and 69 1-2 games out of first place in the NL Central. The defending World Series champions put themselves into this precarious position by losing 13 of their last 28 games.
Before the game, the Dodgers announced that reigning NL Cy Young Award winner Clayton Kershaw would not make his scheduled start in Sunday's series finale because of inflammation in his right hip.
''We invest ourselves a lot in every game, but obviously this one stings more than others,'' Craig said. ''It's a tough loss, but putting your head down and being overly concerned about it isn't going to get us anywhere. So we've just got to play better and stay positive. We're still in a good spot.''
Jason Motte (4-5) came in trying to protect a 3-2 lead for Jaime Garcia and retired his first two batters. But Andre Ethier kept the Dodgers alive with a single and pinch-runner Dee Gordon stole second before Cruz drove him in with a drive that center fielder Jon Jay barely missed on a diving attempt in front of the warning track.
Rivera batted for A.J. Ellis and lined a single off the tip of second baseman Daniel Descalso's glove, enabling pinch-runner Elian Herrera to score the winning run. Descalso started the game at shortstop and committed two errors, one of which led to an unearned run in the first inning.
On Friday night, Cruz helped beat the Cardinals 8-5 with a go-ahead three-run homer in the sixth against Mujica.
''It's unbelievable. It's like a dream for me,'' Cruz said. ''I'm just trying to go out there and give a hundred percent and play hard every time. I'm having the chance to come through in big situations. I'm not going to say I'm lucky, but I've been really concentrating and having good at-bats.''
Ronald Belisario (6-1) pitched 1 1-3 innings for the victory. Kemp helped make it possible in the top of the ninth. He crashed into the fence trying to catch Yadier Molina's drive over his head, but recovered in time and kept him from stretching his hit into a triple with a brilliant somersaulting throw to Cruz.
''When Molina hit the ball, I didn't know hard he hit it, but it just kept carrying,'' Kemp said. ''I thought I might have had a play at the wall and banged into it, but I wanted to get the ball, pick it up and try to make a good throw. It turned out to be a pretty good one. That was a big out.''
Kemp, whose swing hasn't been the same since he crashed into the fence at Coors Field on consecutive days (Aug. 27-28), was 0 for 4 and struck out three times in a game for the fifth time this season. He is 5 for 48 with a homer and two RBIs in his last 12 games since the Dodgers left Denver, but he is still playing with the same reckless abandon as before he got hurt.
''For me, it's all about winning,'' he said. ''I mean, you try not to do stupid things like crashing into fences. But when I'm out there, man, I'm just trying to make a play and make things happen. I crashed into the wall, but it didn't faze me.''
Dodgers starter Joe Blanton gave up three runs and four hits in 5 2-3 innings and struck out six.
A disputed call on a bang-bang play at first base enabled St. Louis to snap a 2-all tie in the sixth. Garcia drew a leadoff walk, ending a string of 13 consecutive batters retired by Blanton, and Jay followed with a single. One out later, Matt Holliday hit a potential double-play grounder to shortstop Hanley Ramirez and just beat the relay to first from second baseman Mark Ellis.
Dodgers manager Don Mattingly went out to argue with umpire Dana DeMuth, and shortly after he returned to the dugout, Craig lined a single to left on an 0-2 pitch to drive in Garcia and chase Blanton.
Blanton, who has surrendered an NL-worst 29 home runs, gave up Craig's 21st of the season in the first inning after a two-out single by Matt Holliday.
''Blanton did a really good job of throwing all of his pitches for strikes,'' Craig said. ''He got his fastball on the inside corner and had good command. He didn't make too many mistakes.''
The Dodgers got one of the runs back in the bottom half when Shane Victorino reached on a throwing error by Descalso, stole second and scored on a two-out single by Adrian Gonzalez. Mark Ellis tied it in the third with a leadoff homer into the lower seats in the left field corner on a full count.
NOTES: Cardinals RF Carlos Beltran did not start because of tightness in his lower back. ... Blanton has a career record of 6-13 with nine no-decisions when allowing a home run in the first inning. ... The gametime temperature was 95 degrees, one more than Friday night. ... Craig, batting an NL-best .393 with runners in scoring position, missed the first month of the season on the disabled list while recovering from a fractured right knee cap and sat out another 14 games in May with a left hamstring strain.