LOS ANGELES -- The Dodgers' 5-3 win over the Diamondbacks brought them another step or two closer to the playoffs on Tuesday night, and the 11-inning affair provided a high-leverage stage for a trio of Dodgers to continue playing into October.
Scott Van Slyke was the hero, and rightfully so, hitting a walk-off home run off Josh Collmenter to win the game in the 11th inning.
"I was running out of guys," manager Don Mattingly joked. "I thought it was a decent matchup for him. [Collmenter]'s a guy who has a curve ball, not big on velocity, a curve/change up guy who could leave some balls up in the zone."
It was the seventh home run of the season for Van Slyke, and his first career walk-off hit. It was the first walk-off home run by a Dodgers pinch hitter since Olmedo Saenz on June 8, 2007 against Jeremy Accardo of the Blue Jays.
"Running the bases, I was thinking I'm about to get my jersey torn off. I wanted to take my jersey off before I got home," Van Slyke said with a smile. "It's fun. It's worth it."
It has been worth it for Van Slyke all season. He is hitting .259/.333/.519 for the Dodgers with seven home runs and seven doubles in just 123 plate appearances, all while shuttling back and forth between the big club and Triple-A Albuquerque. Van Slyke was optioned four separate times in 2013, but he hasn't let it get him down.
"He's been good. He's taken it really well. The last two or three times I've sent him down he came into the office smiling, knowing what was going on," Mattingly said. "The last time we called him up I told him, 'They're running out of games down there. You're probably not going anywhere.'"
It has been quite a turnaround year for Van Slyke, 27, who was designated for assignment in December when the Dodgers traded for Skip Schumaker, then outrighted to the minors after Van Slyke cleared waivers. Van Slyke worked hard, lost weight and hit from the first day of spring training. By May 10 he was back with the Dodgers, and even with the back-and-forth trips to New Mexico he kept sight of the main goal.
"It's been my goal all year just to contribute, put up good at-bats, play solid defense and be a good teammate," Van Slyke said. "It's easier because it's the big leagues. Knowing you can come here and contribute, that it's just a matter of time before you get back. Being up here is way more fun than being in the minor leagues. It kind of drives you a little bit to work hard once you get back down there."
Van Slyke has the most power on the bench, and has hit a combined .345/.448/.613 against southpaws this season in the majors and minors.
"He's a guy under consideration because he's another righty against lefties, and we've had some trouble against lefties," Mattingly said.
Even though Van Slyke's playoff roster fate may be tied to the health of Matt Kemp, he still has a shot to play in October depending on how the Dodgers construct their bench. Another option is Dee Gordon, who pinch ran in the 10th inning and stole a base, though he was stranded at third base.
After seeing Billy Hamilton's speed affect two of the three games over the weekend in Cincinnati, Mattingly deployed Gordon in a similar fashion on Tuesday. He pinch ran for Adrian Gonzalez, though curiously not until Andre Ethier had a 2-0 count at the plate.
"I was up in the air with that one. If I had to do it again I'd probably send him out there right away," Mattingly said. "It's one of those situations, do you want to burn him with two outs? But if Andre hits a gapper I wanted him to score."
Gordon spent his pregame taking grounders at second base and fly balls in the outfield. But while his eventual defensive versatility might be nice, his likely role in the postseason with the Dodgers will be with his feet, that is if he makes the roster.
It's a question Mattingly doesn't have to answer now, as the Dodgers haven't clinched anything yet. But with a 13-game lead with 18 games to play, the writing is on the wall.
"We're still in hypotheticals, we'll look at everything once we get there. Scott's another guy. One guy hits a home run, one guy steals a base," Mattingly said. "We'll deal with those questions, we'll throw it around the room."
The Dodgers have acquired veteran relievers Carlos Marmol and Brian Wilson this season, but their most impressive bullpen addition in season has been Chris Withrow, by far.
The right-hander retired all four batters he faced on Tuesday, including a strikeout of Paul Goldschmidt, who has hit .344 (21-for-61) with four home runs and 14 RBI against the Dodgers this season. Withrow, the Dodgers' first-round pick in 2007, has come into his own since switching from starting to the bullpen in the middle of the 2012 season.
"I've seen this guy for a long time. It never really seemed like his control was bad. I think the biggest thing was his longevity as a starter, once he got going that second and third time through a lineup he wasn't the same," Mattingly said. "The bullpen has been good for him."
Withrow has retired 15 straight batters, including nine by strikeout. On the season he has a 2.83 ERA in 21 appearances, with 37 strikeouts and just eight walks. Of all the young players on the Dodgers fighting for a spot on a potential playoff roster, Withrow might have the strongest case.
But there are still nearly three weeks to decide such things, and a lot can happen in such time. Like clinching a division for instance, even if the manager doesn't want to talk about the magic number.
"It's getting better," Mattingly acknowledged. "I hate to talk about it."