They need a lot of help from their friends

The Dodgers will spend part of the two hours before they take the field for Monday night's game with the San Francisco Giants rooting hard for a man who last wore a Dodger uniform 29 years ago.

"I know Dusty (Baker) well enough to know he's going to want to win those games in St. Louis," manager Don Mattingly said Sunday.

Had the Dodgers not fumbled their way through the first three weeks of September, they wouldn't be left having to root so hard for Baker's Cincinnati Reds over the next three days.

They did and now they are.

Oddly, their fate might come down to who wants it more -- the Reds or the San Francisco Giants. While the Cardinals, who lead the Dodgers by two games for the final wild card with three games left, play one first-place team -- the Reds -- the Dodgers play another -- the Giants.

The Reds have a tiny bit more to play for -- they could clinch the best record in the league and lock up home field throughout the postseason -- but the Dodgers know such things are far from major motivators at this time of year. They witnessed it Sunday when the Washington Nationals lost 10-4 to the Cardinals and had their manager, Davey Johnson, say afterward, "It's better to clinch at home anyway."

You can't get a much flimsier safety net than to be two games out with three to play. And the Dodgers know they cut the holes in that net on their own.

"We played ourselves into this deal and now we've got to dig out way out of it," said pitcher Josh Beckett.

If only they could. Even if they manage to beat Matt Cain on Monday night and then beat the Giants the next two days, the Cardinals still have to lose two games at home -- then the Dodgers would have to beat them at Dodger Stadium on Thursday.

Far stranger things have happened, but it's not exactly likely. ESPN's Hunt for October gives the Dodgers just under a 5 percent chance of playing beyond Thursday. If only they could have been this team a week earlier. After going 13-22 for over a month, the Dodgers have won five straight games. They made it nearly impossible on themselves, and now they're trying to do the nearly impossible.

You can hear shades of "what-if" in the Dodgers' comments, even as they continue to insist they're still in it. In fact, they admit they sometimes think about what would have happened if they hadn't stumbled while rounding the far turn. Who knows, the National League teams that do qualify for the playoffs might be lucky the Dodgers don't get in -- assuming they don't.

"If we continue to do what we're doing, there's a chance we can squeak in there and, the way we're playing, I would like our chances against any team that we play against," Matt Kemp said.

I asked Mattingly if Johnson's comment about clinching at home bothered him. Not only didn't it, but Mattingly sympathizes with a manager trying to coax a team to the end when it has already reached its primary goal.

"You can't talk your guys into thinking that they have to win it," Mattingly said. "It's almost like a spring training game at that point."

The Dodgers have to hope that Baker talks a better game than Johnson right about now.