CINCINNATI -- The Dodgers expected the world of MVP runner-up Matt Kemp this year and expected basically nothing from troubled reliever Ronald Belisario.
On Friday night, with critical ground in the Wild Card chase to be gained, the unlikely combo led the Dodgers to a 3-1 win over the Reds in 10 innings that further tightened the chase for the second National League Wild Card berth.
Kemp's bases-loaded, two-run single on an 0-2 pitch with two outs in the top of the 10th made a winner out of Belisario, who struck out five of the six batters he faced in two perfect innings.
"Today was like a double shot, you know, because we picked up a game, so it was not just a win," manager Don Mattingly said, as the Cardinals lost.
That left St. Louis 1 1/2 games ahead of Milwaukee with the Dodgers another half-game back for the final playoff spot. Eleven games remain for St. Louis and Los Angeles, 12 for Milwaukee.
"We know Cincy is one game from clinching [the NL Central]," Kemp said. "I have some friends over there, but I don't want to see them celebrate while we're on the field. We've got to do everything we can to get three wins and get out of town before they pop champagne."
"I felt like it was a playoff atmosphere tonight," Reds outfielder Jay Bruce said. "Those guys played us tough. It's a must-win for them. Every game matters so much to them."
Kemp is doing what he can. He won the nightcap of Wednesday's doubleheader with a ninth-inning home run. He won this game with his first three-hit performance since fraying shoulder labrum by smashing into the fence at Coors Field a month ago.
And a brutal month it's been for Kemp, playing hurt and unable to carry the club on his shoulders when one of them is in pain. He was hitting .164 in September coming into the game, .197 coming out of the game.
Leading off the top of the 10th inning, Elian Herrera was grazed by a 2-2 pitch from Sam LeCure. A.J. Ellis, on an 0-2 pitch, bunted to first baseman Joey Votto, who threw late to second base. Nick Punto, batting for Belisario, bunted the runners to second and third.
Mark Ellis walked to load the bases for Andre Ethier. Reliever Sean Marshall came on to strike out Ethier, but Kemp lined his hit to right field, scoring Herrera and A.J. Ellis.
"He threw me a cutter," Kemp said. "I was a little surprised. The first pitch was a fastball down the middle, then a really good cutter and he came back with a cutter that caught too much of the plate and I tried to stay inside the ball. It was a key hit and we needed it. We haven't been too good driving in runs. We can't lose any more games, got to win every game."
Of course, the Dodgers' pitching made the late rally possible. Joe Blanton allowed a two-out single in the first inning, retired the next 12 batters, then turned it over to a bullpen full of workhorses.
Blanton said he "didn't even notice" the string of a dozen hitters retired.
"I felt I was throwing the ball well and just ran with it as long as I can," he said. Mattingly lifted the starter after he allowed a two-out single in the sixth.
"During the regular season -- I look at these games like they're already the postseason -- I'd leave him out there," Mattingly said. "The game would still be his at that point. But this time I've got to go left-handed [Randy Choate against Bruce]. I'm sure some starters are frustrated with me, but right now I can't afford to lose games and I've got to go with matchups."
Shawn Tolleson made the first stand in that sixth inning, striking out former Dodger Xavier Paul on a called third strike with a slider after he walked Drew Stubbs to load the bases.
Kenley Jansen, in only his second appearance since being sidelined with an irregular heartbeat, pitched a perfect seventh. Then Belisario overpowered the Reds in the eighth and ninth before the offense got the lead and Brandon League got the save.
Belisario raised his record to 8-1 and lowered his ERA to 2.20 in 61 games after missing the entire 2011 season with a positive cocaine test.
Belisario said he never doubted he would return to the Major Leagues and said he never felt the front office doubted him, although signings of veteran relievers Matt Guerrier last year and Todd Coffey this year indicated otherwise.
That said, if not for Buster Posey's stunning return from a broken ankle, Belisario would deserve NL Comeback Player of the Year honors.
"We just didn't know what to count on," Mattingly said. "He's been tremendous, obviously. A couple little patches of wildness, but between that, pretty dang reliable."
Ken Gurnick is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.