LOS ANGELES_The Los Angeles Dodgers' postseason fate won't be decided for another three weeks. But when it is, Manager Don Mattingly says he'll be able to point back to Wednesday's epic game with the Washington Nationals as one that helped determine his team's future.
And since Mattingly believes the Dodgers will make the playoffs and Wednesday's game was one his team lost, falling, 8-5, in 14 innings, this will take a bit of explaining.
Yes, his team gave up three unearned runs in the final inning, let a two-run lead get away and loaded the bases twice in extra innings without scoring. Yet, Mattingly insists he saw more good than bad in the game which, at 5 hours 34 minutes, was the Dodgers' longest of the season in terms of innings and time.
"I don't think this game comes back to haunt us," Mattingly said. "I think this is a good game for us. From the positive side, this effort right here and this determination and perseverance from our guys is going to get us where we want to go."
Certainly there were positives, such as rookie Carlos Frias throwing six scoreless innings in his first start. Or the Dodgers, down to their last out twice, rallying to tie the score both times, first in the ninth inning on Justin Turner's drive into the right-field corner and in the 12th on Carl Crawford's two-run home run.
But there were even more negatives in a game that featured 51 players, three errors, three blown save opportunities and 30 strikeouts.
Without a true setup man, Mattingly had to ask Kenley Jansen to get a four-out save and he failed, giving up three runs in the ninth inning. The Dodgers, who were a dismal two for nine with runners in scoring position, left 12 men on base. Then there was Hanley Ramirez and Adrian Gonzalez, who were a combined one for 10, with Gonzalez striking out with the bases loaded in the 10th.
But when the clubhouse doors opened to the media Gonzalez and Ramirez, two of the team's leaders, were gone and Matt Kemp was on his way out, leaving role players like Justin Turner and Tim Federowicz to offer the team's spin on the tough questions.
"There was definitely a lot of pluses," Federowicz said. "There's plenty of times you think we're out of it and we come right back. That's the type of team we are."
In the Dodgers' mind, Wednesday's game wasn't so much a loss as it was a learning experience.
"You can worry about it and stress yourself out about it or you can put it behind you and just focus on the things you can control," said Crawford, who had three hits to raise his average to .409 in his last 20 games. "This game is over with already. It's a loss.
"Nothing we can do, so we've just got to worry about what's ahead of us."
Immediately ahead for the Dodgers is a day off Thursday, followed by a three-game series with the Arizona Diamondbacks. And just behind them are the San Francisco Giants, who trail the Dodgers by two games in the National League West race, a race the Dodgers must win to avoid a dangerous one-game wild-card playoff.
"Right now our focus is just winning games, trying to win our division, knowing that every day is important," Mattingly said. "Obviously, you want to get into the playoffs, but if you get in you'd really like to win the division because you don't want to play in the wild-card game.
"One game, you never know what could happen. The ball could bounce the wrong way. Everything could go wrong. It's just one of those games you don't want to be in."
Which brings us back to Wednesday and all the positives the Dodgers believe can come from losing a 14-inning heartbreaker.
Of course there's the possibility the team could lose the pennant by a game, in which case they'll look back on Wednesday in a completely different way. But why dwell on the negative? The Dodgers aren't.
"I'm real happy about a lot of that stuff," Mattingly said of the game. "Obviously, we had a few chances ... and it didn't work out for us. But overall, a lot of good things today."
Nationals 8, Dodgers 5 (14 innings)
KEY MOMENT: A one-out throwing error by Justin Turner opened the door for Washington, which broke open a tie game with three unearned runs in the 14th inning. Ian Desmond started the rally by reaching on the error. He moved to second base on a walk, to third on a wild pitch and scored the go-ahead run when the Dodgers were unable to turn a double play on Adam LaRoche's grounder that should have ended the inning. Asdrubal Cabrera followed and put the game away with a two-run home run.
AT THE PLATE: LaRoche, who entered the game in the ninth inning as a pinch-hitter, finished with five runs batted in. He tied the score in the ninth with a two-run home run, then put the Nationals ahead briefly in the 12th with a two-run single before driving in the go-ahead run in the 14th. For the Dodgers, Turner and Carl Crawford each had three hits and each hit a two-run home run, and Dee Gordon and Yasiel Puig had two hits each. Adrian Gonzalez was only one for seven and the Dodgers twice had the bases loaded in extra innings but failed to score, going two for nine with runners in scoring position and stranding 12 runners.
ON THE MOUND: Carlos Frias was impressive in his first major league start, shutting out the Nationals on three hits through six innings. But Kenley Jansen couldn't convert a four-out save opportunity, giving up three runs in the span of three outs. Brandon League and Kevin Correia pitched the last three innings, combining to give up five runs, four hits and two walks, although the three runs scored against Correia were unearned.