Dodgers' road streak over, but team still confident

ST. LOUIS -- The loud music that had been reverberating inside a number of visitors clubhouses throughout the majors was finally quieted Tuesday night.

For the first time since July 6, the Los Angeles Dodgers lost a road game.

Their 15-game winning streak away from home -- the longest in the National League since 1957 and the fourth-longest in the history of baseball -- finally came to an end with a 5-1 loss to the St. Louis Cardinals. After the game, the Dodgers clubhouse was as muted as their bats were during the game.

The boom box in the center of the clubhouse that had been blasting Vanilla Ice's "Ice Ice Baby" one night earlier while Yasiel Puig danced for his teammates was gone as players quietly left Busch Stadium.

In his office next to the clubhouse, manager Don Mattingly smiled when he was asked about the lack of run support Clayton Kershaw got and has gotten this season. This was the 15th time in Kershaw's 24 starts that the Dodgers scored three runs or fewer, and they are only 13-11 when the best pitcher in baseball takes the mound.

"I don't know what it is," Mattingly said. "When those good guys pitch, the team just watches him pitch."

Kershaw shrugged off the loss and the end of the winning streak, saying, "It just means we need to start a new one tomorrow."

Afterward, Mattingly was more worried about getting run support for Kershaw than he was about the Dodgers' road winning streak coming to an end. It was a streak Mattingly said the team didn't talk much about as it tried to play well at home and on the road.

"The biggest thing that we try to focus on is the streak doesn't mean anything past tonight's game," Mattingly said. "You try to win every day, and the games that you've already won are gone and you can't win them again, so the only game you really worry about is the next game."

As Mattingly fielded questions after the loss, he was able to smile, which certainly wasn't the case a couple of months ago when it appeared his next loss would be his last.

It wasn't that long ago that the reporters sitting and standing before Mattingly were asking him about his job security and trying to figure out when he would be fired. Those questions, as well as the play of his team during that time, are a distant memory now.

"It wasn't that much fun, but it's OK," Mattingly said, thinking back to when most of the questions he was being asked revolved around his job rather than the team. "Being able to compartmentalize it and not taking it personal [was important]. You take it personal that your team is not playing well, but you understand it's a business. I understand that's the way it is. If the team doesn't play well, the manager usually gets it, and when the team is going good, the guys are playing great."

While the focus after Tuesday's loss will be on the end of the Dodgers' road winning streak, more impressive than that is the fact that the Dodgers have won 32 of their past 40 games, which is the best 40-game run the Dodgers have had since 1953.

There are many reasons the Dodgers have turned their season around, but Mattingly's role shouldn't go unnoticed. He did a masterful job guiding this team through rough waters until it was finally healthy. He cobbled together 58 different lineups through the first 60 games of the season as the Dodgers placed 15 players on the disabled list.

"I think we've only had one day where we had everyone in the lineup," Mattingly said as he monitored the progress of Matt Kemp and Hanley Ramirez, who are out and nursing injuries despite the Dodgers going 15-2 since the All-Star break.

Mattingly paused before the game when he was asked to pinpoint a specific turning point this season. He singled out the Dodgers' trip to play the New York Yankees as the moment he stopped coddling hurt players back to health and told the team it had to make a run now if it wanted to make anything of the season.

"I could feel our club coming together, and that was just at the point where we made a decision that it's time to play these guys," Mattingly said. "We stopped the two on and one off stuff. They were healthy. We felt like we did the right thing to get them to that point, but it was like, 'OK, it's enough, we got to go,' and we put them out there. Since then, we've been able to put a pretty consistent lineup out there every day. I'm able to mix and match with a couple spots, but the main guys have played every day and we were able to regain some consistency."

If this storybook Dodgers season ends with the team's first World Series title since 1988, Hollywood might have to script a more dramatic turning point than the Dodgers finally getting healthy.

"I'd like to say it was something remarkable other than us getting our guys back," Mattingly said. "But I think that's a big part of it, and from there, you can get healthy and not play good. So from the time we've gotten healthy, we've been able to put wins together and we've been able to do it in different ways and the thing has kind of grown."

It's hard to say how close Mattingly was to losing his job before the Dodgers turned their season around. Speculation about his job security was at its height after the Dodgers returned home from a three-game series against the Milwaukee Brewers on May 22. Several media reports at the time had Mattingly getting his walking papers after their next loss, which actually came two days later. Mattingly survived but admits he wasn't so sure he would make it through the month as the Dodgers' manager.

During that time, Dodgers president Stan Kasten sat down with Mattingly and told him that he didn't want to make a change but would be forced to if the team didn't start playing better.

"Stan was really honest. He didn't want to do anything but he said, 'Donnie, at some point I got to do something,'" Mattingly said. "I understood it. I was fine with that. I understand. At some point you need a change of voice, a different voice. If they're not listening and it's not going good, you got to make a change just to make a change. You could be doing the best job you could possibly do and it wouldn't make a difference. I get it. I got that."

Kasten and the Dodgers were so hesitant to make a move that they allowed the Dodgers to sink to a season-worst 12 games under .500 on June 21, and they have been rewarded for their patience with the hottest team in baseball since then.

"At this point, we're just a confident bunch and we feel that we can win anywhere and we feel like we're going to win every day and we pretty much have, so there's no reason not to think that," Mattingly said. "This club is having a lot of fun, and when you start winning like this, you start having fun."