Even Matt Kemp was willing to concede the phantom run the umpires said he scored for the Los Angeles Dodgers in the fourth inning — long before his go-ahead homer in the ninth — should not have counted.
Washington Nationals manager Davey Johnson ("They obviously blew the call"), third baseman Ryan Zimmerman ("You can't just give out free runs in the big leagues") and catcher Jesus Flores ("Terrible call") were much more blunt about it.
In a wild game Wednesday, Kemp was ruled safe at home to give Los Angeles a six-run lead even though TV replays clearly showed that Zimmerman's head-over-heels lunging tag already had been applied to runner Adrian Gonzalez at third for the inning's final out. After Washington used a six-run eighth to tie the score, Kemp led off the ninth with a homer off closer Tyler Clippard, and the struggling Dodgers grabbed a 7-6 victory for a doubleheader split that prevented the Nationals from sewing up their first playoff berth since moving from Montreal in 2005.
"It looked pretty close. I actually probably should have been running just forward and not looking back. ... I don't know if I quite made it or not," Kemp said, before asking reporters whether they had seen a replay.
Informed that he should not have scored, Kemp said: "Actually, yeah, I don't think I did. But we got lucky right there. We stole a run."
That extra run really loomed large when the hosts — who had won the opener 3-1 thanks largely to Jordan Zimmermann's six innings of one-run baseball — wound up sending 12 batters to the plate while scoring six runs in the eighth.
"At the time, I don't think anyone thought it was a really big deal, but it turned out to be a big deal," Zimmerman said. "It was 5-0, and they just make it 6-0."
Crew chief Mike Winters declined to comment.
"Calls like that, you never know when they're going to come back and kick you," said Washington's Michael Morse, who delivered a leadoff homer and a two-run single in the eighth.
The announced crowd of 26,931 was getting loud, perhaps anticipating a comeback and playoff-clinching victory, when Kemp drove an 0-2, elevated fastball from Clippard (2-5) over the wall in center for his 19th homer.
"I can't remember ever putting a ball in that spot and getting hurt like that in my whole career," said Clippard, who earned his 32nd save of the season in Game 1. "It's a tough one to swallow, but nothing I can do about it now."
Ronald Belisario (7-1) earned the win by getting the last two outs of the eighth inning. Brandon League picked up his third save with a hitless ninth.
Washington's victory in the opener was Los Angeles' ninth loss in 12 games — and lowered the host's magic number for securing at least a wild-card spot to one. But the Nationals must wait at least another day to be certain of making the playoffs.
"We're not shooting for a playoff spot. We're shooting to win a division," Clippard said. "So regardless if we won tonight or not, that's not really where we want to be."
Los Angeles' Game 2 starter, Josh Beckett, threw seven shutout innings but left in the eighth after allowing four runs — three earned — and five hits. By then, Johnson had pulled starters Jayson Werth, Zimmerman and Adam LaRoche — Washington's Nos. 1-3-4 hitters.
While Beckett was terrific for a time, retiring 13 consecutive batters in one stretch, Nationals starter John Lannan struggled almost from the outset. Making his second start since taking over Stephen Strasburg's slot in the rotation, Lannan looked little like the guy who entered the night 3-0 with a 2.41 ERA in the majors in 2012 — and much more like the guy who spent most of the year at Triple-A Syracuse.
He was charged with three runs in each of the third and fourth innings, hurt by singles, walks and a hit batter. In all, Lannan lasted only 3 2-3 innings, giving up eight hits. He departed with the bases loaded in the fourth, giving way to Chien-Ming Wang, who had been out with a hip injury and missed about 2½ months.
Wang's first pitch in a major league game since June 30 missed the mark completely. The wild pitch skipped past catcher Flores, allowing a run to score. The batter, Hanley Ramirez, eventually sent a grounder to Zimmerman, who flipped over and reached out to barely tag out Gonzalez. The umpires ruled that Kemp, who was running home from third on the play, crossed the plate in time to make it 6-0 — but he had not.
Johnson, in his words, "raised a fuss" with the umpires, to no avail.
"They all discussed it, and evidently nobody was paying attention," Johnson said. "Kemp wasn't running. He just wasn't running. The tag play was before. Obviously they missed it, but you'd think when the three of them got together somebody would've been paying attention that Kemp was not at home."
Hours before, as music blared in the Nationals' clubhouse between games, Johnson insisted it didn't matter at all that his team had earned its 90th win and lowered its magic number for a wild-card berth to one.
"The only thing that's going to mean anything to me is when we clinch the pennant," Johnson said. "That's the only thing, the only number, I'm concerned with."
The Nationals' 90 victories are the most for a major league club in the nation's capital since 1933 — which also was the last time a D.C. team played beyond the regular season.
"Just keep the blinders on," Morse said. "Just keep pushing and pushing."
NOTES: Zimmermann (11-8) got the win in Game 1; Aaron Harang (9-10) took the loss. ... Bryce Harper made a twisting, over-the-shoulder catch with his back to the infield on a drive to the deepest part of the park by Shane Victorino leading off the sixth inning in Game 2. ... Victorino stole two bases in Game 1 to raise his season total to 37, tying a career high.