Kemp's big game pulls LA closer to Wild Card

Kemp's big game pulls LA closer to Wild Card
SAN DIEGO -- The frustration from Tuesday night's self-inflicted loss got to the general manager, whose spirited review in the coaches room could be heard to the Mexican border, and to the manager, who held another team meeting Wednesday.

And then the Dodgers went out and played the way they're supposed to, battering the Padres, 8-2. So the postgame mood this time was a mixture of satisfaction for getting it together in a must-win game and disappointment that it didn't happen soon enough, with all of those other must-win games that have flushed down the drain.

"Right now we have to win out, win every game to at least have a chance to get into the playoffs," said Matt Kemp, whose battered shoulder didn't stop him from four RBIs on four hits, including his 20th home run.

Aaron Harang threw 5 1/3 scoreless innings against his former team as the Dodgers cut the deficit back to 3 1/2 games behind losing St. Louis for the last National League Wild Card berth with seven games remaining. The magic number to elimination for the Dodgers is four.

Harang (10-10), whose no-hitter was snapped by Everth Cabrera's infield single with two outs in the fifth inning, picked up his first win since Aug. 18 and the first for a Dodgers starting pitcher since Sept. 1.

"There was good energy in the dugout and I hope we can keep it the rest of the season," Harang said. "There was a good demeanor in the dugout today."

Compared to what?

"We've gone through a tough stretch here," Harang said. "We definitely had the demeanor we had early in the year when we played pretty well [building a 7 1/2-game lead]. This is crunch time. We have to play hard the rest of the way and hope it works out."

Harang gave a hint that the issue of finger-pointing might have arisen in recent clubhouse discussions. On Tuesday night, the Dodgers generally conceded they beat themselves with fielding and baserunning errors.

"We all have a part in the blame," he said. "We all have to look ourselves in the mirror and not put blame on others. We've got to be able to say we gave it everything we got."

"He was just the normal Harang," Padres catcher Yasmani Grandal said. "Spotting up and down and throwing curveballs. Other than that, it was nothing out of this world."

With a makeshift starting lineup, the Dodgers also got three hits and four runs scored from Nick Punto and a home run from Juan Rivera, replacements for the ailing Mark Ellis and the injured Shane Victorino.

Punto, who seems to dive into first base for kicks, batted second and said he was determined to set the table for Kemp, Adrian Gonzalez (two hits, two RBIs) and Hanley Ramirez (two hits, one RBI). Punto's four runs were the most for a Dodgers player in two years.

"With the firepower we have in the middle," said Punto, "you saw what we're capable of."

But where has it been since the nine-player blockbuster that brought him over with Gonzalez and Co.?

"It happens to clubs each year and this year it's us," he said. "It's tough to swallow. Look around this clubhouse and see how talented this club is. Now we need a lot of help, but we're still crossing our fingers. We've got to give the fans something to look forward to next year. And maybe somehow we can pull off a miracle."

The Dodgers strung four first-inning hits -- by Punto, Kemp, Gonzalez and Ramirez -- the latter two driving in runs for a 2-0 lead against Clayton Richard.

Punto and Gonzalez teamed again in the third inning. The former, with his trademark headfirst dive into first base, beat out an infield single, advanced to second on Kemp's groundout and scored on Gonzalez's flare single to left.

Rivera, 0-for-9 lifetime against Richard, snapped that slump with a home run leading off the fourth inning. Matt Treanor smoked a line drive that handcuffed left fielder Jesus Guzman for a two-base error, Punto had his third hit and Kemp doubled them home to chase Richard.

Harang had a no-hitter ruined on pitch No. 87 with two outs in the fifth inning and Cameron Maybin on second after a walk. Cabrera flared a one-hopper behind second base and beat Ramirez's throw to first.

Kemp put the game away with a two-run blast in the sixth inning. San Diego finally got on the board in the seventh off Shawn Tolleson with an RBI double by Chase Headley and an RBI single by Grandal.

Ken Gurnick is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.