LOS ANGELES -- As soon as spring training started nearly two months ago, the Los Angeles Dodgers took a bottle of shoe polish and scribbled "World Series or Bust!" on their season.
If you're a team with that kind of aspiration, and when countless baseball pundits believe you can do such a thing, you have to win exactly the kinds of games the Dodgers found themselves in Tuesday night at Dodger Stadium.
They were facing a World Series contender -- the Detroit Tigers -- from the other league, and said league's reigning Cy Young winner and MVP in Max Scherzer and Miguel Cabrera, respectively. And they nearly blew it before prying a 3-2, 10-inning victory out of the warm Chavez Ravine air.
It was the kind of win that reaffirms belief after you do something like, say, drop two of three to your division rivals the weekend before, as the Dodgers did against the San Francisco Giants, then blow a ninth-inning lead against a Tigers team expected to contend for the World Series title you hope to win.
It was the kind of game that forced the Dodgers to show some mettle and an ability to survive. In front of a sellout on a Tuesday, after taking a lead against Scherzer in the seventh inning and with the game seemingly won, this club suddenly was in the corner getting hit with hooks and in danger of going down in a fight they should have already won.
"We feel like we are going to win these games," Dodgers manager Don Mattingly said. "The expectations aren't that big of a thing for us right now. We had them last year so that part is over, but we're a confident club and we also know we have to play well. We can't just show up and expect it.
"I like guys thinking they are good but also knowing they still have to play."
Closer Kenley Jansen blew the one-run save after pumping high-90s gas by Cabrera for a huge second out. The stadium became deflated. The home dugout did not.
Chone Figgins drew a walk to start the bottom of the 10th inning and scored on a double by Carl Crawford, who sliced a ball to left field that got to the wall after Tigers right fielder Rajai Davis misplayed it.
It was the first walk-off win of the season for L.A., but more important it showed this team of mostly veterans can pick themselves up and knock the dust away to win a game against a quality opponent.
"The nights that we may not hit, we can score a run any way we have to. That's important," said Figgins, who was the best player on a Los Angeles Angels team that made it to the American League Championship Series in 2009.
"Not everyone pays attention to it this early, but guys get used to thinking we can come back and win, and that's big. The expectation is to win. You focus on beating someone that night, go home, come back and beat someone again. We won a lot of games with that mentality with the Angels, just thinking about that game only."
The Dodgers will lose games like this. No doubt. They won't get the big hit every night. It's a long season. They'll have the silent clubhouse from time to time, but wins against good teams, against good players, they build.
Confidence and momentum are fleeting things during a six-month regular season, but when a team knows it can consistently win in these circumstances, your opposition starts believing, too. And that's when a team really gets dangerous.