ATLANTA -- This was a game the Dodgers could have won.
They could have boarded their charter flight to Los Angeles on Friday night with a commanding lead over the Atlanta Braves in the National League division series.
Instead, the Braves' 4-3 victory meant the best-of-five series was tied at one game apiece, leaving open the unsettling possibility that Clayton Kershaw could be forced to pitch on three days' rest for the first time in his career.
In the aftermath of the loss at Turner Field, many of the questions the Dodgers faced were related to Manager Don Mattingly's ill-fated decision in the seventh inning to intentionally walk roster filler Reed Johnson to face former All-Star Jason Heyward. And rightfully so. Heyward singled off Paco Rodriguez to drive in two runs and increase the Braves' lead from 2-1 to 4-1.
But rather than question Mattingly's thinking or second base umpire Bill Miller's controversial ninth-inning call on a stolen base attempt by Dee Gordon, Adrian Gonzalez pointed to how many runners the Dodgers left on base.
"There were definitely a few opportunities out there," Gonzalez said.
The Dodgers had 10 hits to the Braves' six.
In five innings the Dodgers' leadoff hitter reached base. Only one of them scored, on a two-run home run by Hanley Ramirez in the eighth inning.
The Dodgers were two for seven with runners in scoring position. Both hits were infield singles that failed to drive in the runner.
Seven men were left on base and the Dodgers hit into three double plays.
"We didn't take advantage," Gonzalez said.
Gonzalez was quick to credit Braves starter Mike Minor, who gave up eight hits but held the Dodgers to one run over 6 1/3 innings.
"They made pitches when they needed to," Gonzalez said.
As in the first inning, when Gonzalez grounded to short with one out and Ramirez on second base after an RBI double. Or in the sixth inning, when Gonzalez struck out with Ramirez again on second base, this time with no outs.
But one of the benefits of fielding a team as well-paid and experienced as the Dodgers is that a lot has to happen for visible signs of panic to appear. And, evidently, this defeat didn't meet the necessary threshold.
"It happens," Ramirez said with a shrug and a smile.
Ramirez drove in all three of the Dodgers' runs. In the first inning, he doubled to score Mark Ellis from first base.
But the timely hits after that all belonged to the Braves, starting with a two-out double in the second inning by Andrelton Simmons that drove in Evan Gattis and tied the score, 1-1.
The Braves moved ahead, 2-1, in the fourth on another two-out single off Dodgers starter Zack Greinke, this one by Chris Johnson that skipped between shortstop Ramirez and third baseman Juan Uribe.
Heyward's up-the-middle single off Rodriguez in the seventh inning was also with two out.
"Two-out singles in the playoffs are definitely the difference makers," catcher A.J. Ellis said.
The most painful of the Dodgers' double plays came in the seventh inning, when Carl Crawford hit a comebacker to reliever Luis Avilan with one out and men on the corners. Avilan threw to second, and Simmons doubled upCrawford at first.
Crawford commended the Braves' defense. "That was a really good double play," he said.
While the Dodgers have taken home-field advantage away from the Braves — the next two games will be at Dodger Stadium — their failure to win this Game 2 could force them into a tough decision.
If the Dodgers lose Game 3, do they start Kershaw on three days' rest in Game 4? Or do they have Ricky Nolasco pitch the elimination game, even though he posted a 12.75 earned-run average in his last three regular-season starts?
Even if the Dodgers win Game 3, do they start Kershaw in Game 4 to try to avoid a return to Turner Field, where the Braves compiled the best home record in baseball? If they do that and still lose Game 4, Greinke could pitch Game 5 on regular four days' rest.
Twitter: @dylanohernandezCopyright © 2015, Los Angeles Times