WASHINGTON -- After dropping the opener of Wednesday's doubleheader with the Nationals, the nightcap had all the makings of playoff baseball. Brilliant pitching by Josh Beckett was the highlight early -- until his start turned sour by a blown six-run lead. That came after a controversial play at the plate in the fourth inning, and before Matt Kemp's ninth-inning homer ultimately boosted the Dodgers to a 7-6 win at Nationals Park.
"Baseball is a beautiful game, isn't it?" Dodgers manager Don Mattingly said after the game.
Easy enough to say for the winning skipper, especially the one benefiting from Kemp's late-inning heroics that gave the Dodgers a doubleheader split and left them two games behind the Cardinals for the second National League Wild Card spot.
After the Nationals had just plated six runs in the eighth, Kemp led off the ninth and quickly fell into an 0-2 count against Washington closer Tyler Clippard. The Dodgers' center fielder, banged up for much of the month and with just one hit in his last 20 at-bats, then fouled off a 92 mph fastball. On his fourth pitch, Clippard served up another fastball, this one at 93 mph and a little bit high in the zone, and Kemp smacked it high into the air and just over the W.B. Mason sign in center field.
"Just get on base, that's just about it," Kemp said of his thoughts leading up to the at-bat. "Get something going, don't try to do to much.
"That happens in baseball. You just try to find a way to win the game, and that's what we did."
By that time, the fourth inning would have been mostly forgotten had it not been for a what appeared to be a critically blown call at the plate.
With the Dodgers' lead at 5-0, Hanley Ramirez slapped a ground ball to Ryan Zimmerman at third base. Zimmerman fell over trying to corral it but simultaneously tagged out Adrian Gonzalez. That appeared to end the inning without any more runs scoring, but during the break, the four umpires gathered and decided that Kemp had crossed home plate before the out was made for Los Angeles' sixth home run. Replays appeared to show a clear view of Kemp touching home plate only after Zimmerman tagged Gonzalez at third.
"In my mind, [Kemp didn't score]," Nats manager Davey Johnson said "[The umpires] obviously blew the call. It wasn't reviewable. They all discussed it."
Before it all, the game seemed set to cruise by quickly with Beckett as dominant as he had been in a Dodgers uniform. After the Nats squeezed out a 3-1 win earlier in the day and forced the Dodgers to use four relievers, the right-hander faced only two batters over the minimum into the seventh.
The start had all the makings of his best since his trade to Los Angeles on Aug. 25.
"I think I was maybe not making pitches on the corner, but the ball was down," Beckett said. "I was getting some weak contact. They had a team approach, it was just try and get me early. I think that that kind of led to the pitch count being where it was."
Indeed, Beckett's brilliant start had limited him to just 68 pitches entering the eighth inning. But that all changed abruptly after Michael Morse led off with a home run that flew just over the curly "W" on the right-field fence. After Ian Desmond singled, Steve Lombardozzi launched the first pitch he saw from Beckett almost to the same spot as Morse's blast. Suddenly, the Nats were within 6-3.
Beckett forced Jesus Flores to ground out before pinch-hitter Corey Brown slapped a grounder to Gonzalez at first. The ball skipped high off Gonzalez's glove, handing the Dodgers' first baseman an error, allowing Brown to reach second and chasing Beckett from the game. He finished with four runs allowed (three earned) on five hits over 7 1/3 innings.
"[Beckett] gave us a chance to get that six-run lead and it was just a couple of pitches that they put good swings on," Gonzalez said. "That was it. I made the error that should've been an out. ... He should've got the win today."
Left-hander Randy Choate allowed one more run, and with the lead at 6-4, Mattingly sent right-hander Ronald Belisario into the game. Pinch-hitter Danny Espinosa -- resting the second game with a bone bruise in his left shoulder -- slapped a ground-ball single to left to make it a 6-5 game. Tyler Moore struck out, and then Morse ripped a 1-1 slider from Belisario to right field to score Mark DeRosa and Harper to tie the score at 6.
Los Angeles' bats, meanwhile, woke up in the nightcap after they left 11 runners on base and went just 1-for-15 with runners in scoring position. The Dodgers produced 13 hits after having nine in the opener and bounced Nats starter John Lannan after just 3 2/3 innings.
But of course, nothing was bigger than Kemp's game-winning shot. Especially given his ailments and previous struggles at the plate -- he did finish 2-for-4 in the nightcap with the homer, two RBIs and three runs scored -- Kemp's homer loomed even larger on a night when the Dodgers put themselves in position to win the series on Thursday.
"I don't think he'll tell anybody, but I don't think he's feeling 100 percent," Gonzalez said. "There's a couple of things that are still lingering there and a little bit of pain, and he's batting through it. He's doing a great job of just playing through this and being the team leader that he is."
Mike Fiammetta is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.