LOS ANGELES -- It was the kind of play that brings tears to your eyes.
"It really chokes me up," Los Angeles Dodgers manager Don Mattingly said.
Matt Kemp carries an air of confidence that can, at times, suggest he's indifferent to the outcomes on a baseball field. It's doubtful that he is, of course. He has been around here for a long time and, while the Dodgers have a lot invested in him, he has a lot invested in this team.
Perhaps the physical embodiment of his desire to win came in the ninth inning of Saturday's thrilling 4-3 Dodgers win over the St. Louis Cardinals.
Bad things were happening all over the place. Clayton Kershaw had to schedule an appointment with a hip specialist in New York and might miss the rest of the season. The Dodgers' bats -- particularly Kemp's -- had fallen back into the doldrums.
St. Louis was leading both in the wild-card standings and on the field and was about to lead by more. Yadier Molina had sent a ball soaring toward the wall in center field. Kemp got turned around on it, couldn't catch it, smacked into the wall and, by the time he recovered, the ball was bouncing rapidly back toward the infield.
Kemp kicked out of cool and into frantic. He picked up the ball with his bare hand, threw it without setting his feet -- in fact, he left his feet entirely -- and somehow got enough on it to get it precisely to Luis Cruz on one hop. Molina was out trying to stretch it into a triple. You could, of course, argue that a Molina should never be thinking triple, but you won't see a better throw.
It might not be possible to make a better throw.
"I mean, that's just total not-wanting-to-lose," Mattingly said.
It seemed to spark his teammates. The Dodgers scored two runs the next half-inning to win it -- Cruz had the key hit, who else? -- and pulled into a tie with the Cardinals in the wild-card race. Kemp is stuck in one of the worst hitting slumps of his career, but with players this talented, you just can't account for all the ways they can beat you.
"I definitely felt it throughout the stadium," Kemp said. "Everybody was on their feet, cheering. I think it definitely pumped us up a little bit."
It was, in part, Kemp's anemic hitting that caused the Dodgers to be trailing in the first place. He struck out three times and is batting .116 with just two RBIs in this, the season's fateful month. Only two of 133 batters in the National League with at least 25 at-bats have a worse OPS than Kemp this month.
But a play like Saturday's reminds us that baseball really only matters for one reason: it's entertaining. Tens of thousands of people who trudged through traffic after this game might remember that throw for the rest of their lives.
Even before that, Saturday had a little bit of October atmosphere despite a first-pitch temperature of 95 degrees. The win was the kind of spark that can carry a tired team for a few days, maybe even a week or two. That might just be enough, considering there are only 16 games left in the season.
For the Dodgers to get into the postseason, they'll need Kemp to figure out why his bat isn't working. He insists he's starting to feel better after banging his shoulder into the wall in Colorado a few weeks ago. Sometimes, though, an injury like that can produce subtle changes in a swing that can prove costly. Getting that part figured out is Kemp's first order of business, of course, because there aren't many opportunities to turn a game's outcome in center field.
"I'm going up there, I'm grinding, I'm trying to get things done, but right now I'm just swinging at bad pitches and not letting the game come to me," Kemp said. "I've just got to slow down a little bit.
"Guys, I know how to hit. I promise you, I know how to hit."
It was the kind of night when you wanted to take Kemp at his word.