Mattingly walks the razor's edge

LOS ANGELES -- In the weeks following the most expensive trade in baseball history, when the Los Angeles Dodgers were mixing in new ingredients and coming up with a strangely blah concoction, the team's fans started taking some shots at manager Don Mattingly.

He was too laid-back. He wasn't taking his players -- many of whom are massively paid icons -- to task for their lackluster play, especially their anemic hitting.

It wasn't long after the negative comments starting sprouting up all over the Internet that general manager Ned Colletti -- apparently unmoved by the ground swell -- announced that Mattingly would return in 2013.

And now, as the Dodgers teeter on the brink of elimination, Mattingly might be the best thing they have going for them. Are they still in it, two games out with two to play? Mathematics would suggest the following answer: not really. They would need five straight outcomes to go their way in order to reach Friday's wild-card round -- two wins, two St. Louis Cardinals losses and a tiebreaker win Thursday at Dodger Stadium.

But they've been somehow ignoring the likelihood of their demise for a week now, winning six straight games when one loss would have knocked them off the beam.

And you'd be crazy to think Mattingly doesn't have something to do with that. Catcher A.J. Ellis said the manager called a team meeting before the second game in San Diego last week. The Dodgers haven't lost since.

"He kind of laid it out for us," Ellis said. "He called us all on the carpet and kind of put us in a spot where we had to start taking our own personal accountability for what's been going on."

That was the easy part. Getting his players to fight the urge to give up -- especially with fatigue mounting so deep into the season -- has been Mattingly's biggest accomplishment. They learned in the third inning the Cardinals had beaten the Cincinnati Reds, survived a blown lead to the Giants in the eighth and rallied for the win in the ninth.

With the Angels, Chicago White Sox and Tampa Bay Rays all bowing out Monday night, the Dodgers are the last remaining bubble team. ESPN's “Hunt for October” gives them a 2.5 percent chance of making the playoffs. It's a slim hope -- the width of dental floss -- but Mattingly has been tying this thing together with such strands for a week.

"I wish we had a little more time, because the road keeps winding down, but we're doing what we talked about doing in San Diego -- forcing those guys to win games," Mattingly said. "All we can do is take care of our job. The guys are still fighting."

The guys are still fighting, in part because their manager wants them to and he seems like the right kind of guy to line up behind.