Can the Dodgers win in October without a clear-cut ace?
A 3-2 victory over the Cincinnati Reds on Sunday at Great American Ball Park showed how they could.
Facing the Reds would, of course, be one method. But considering the number of games that would have to be fixed to make that happen, an unrealistic one.
More tangible symbols of optimism emerged in the form of 21-year-old Clayton Kershaw, who struck out 11 in seven innings of two-run ball, and a bullpen that significantly shortened what threatened to be a long game.
In actuality, the game was long, lasting 12 innings, but five relievers combined to pitch five shutout innings, buying enough time for Matt Kemp to drive in Manny Ramirez for the deciding run on a sacrifice fly to center field.
The 20 strikeouts by the six Dodgers pitchers were the most for the club since Tommy John and four relievers struck out 22 batters in a 19-inning, 2-1 loss to Cincinnati on Aug. 8, 1972.
About the only inning that didn't feel short was the one pitched by Jonathan Broxton, who had men on first base and second base and had to strike out Wlademir Balentien and Drew Stubbs in succession to get his 29th save.
Ever the humorist after near-escapes, Manager Joe Torre cracked, "The guy we're fighting . . . to get to is the one who gave us the heart palpitations."
The scare behind them, the Dodgers returned to Los Angeles to open a four-game series against the Arizona Diamondbacks with a six-game lead over the Colorado Rockies and San Francisco Giants in the National League West.
Kemp hit two home runs on the trip, including a solo shot that started a two-run rally in the fifth inning that tied the score, 2-2. Ramirez looked as if he could be starting to regain his form, as he hit a home run Saturday and was one for two with a walk after entering Sunday's game in the eighth inning.
The Dodgers were up on the Rockies by only three games when they started a six-game voyage Tuesday and had their margin reduced to two games at one point.
Credit the arms for the turnaround.
The Dodgers' bullpen didn't give up a run in 20 1/3 innings over the last five games of the trip, including 11 2/3 over the last two games. The relievers lowered their collective earned-run average to 3.52, best in the majors.
Lest there be questions about the correlation between those numbers and the nobodies in the Reds' lineup, consider this: Dodgers relievers held the Rockies scoreless in 5 2/3 innings in the two games of the series they won.
"They're certainly giving us an opportunity to do something special," Torre said.
Sherrill said that pitching can be contagious the way hitting is said to be.
"You kind of watch one guy go out there and go 1-2-3 or work out of trouble, you kind of feed off it," Sherrill said.
Those without a feel have to turn to grit, which is what Broxton said he had to do because he couldn't command his fastball. Broxton issued full-count walks to Jonny Gomes and Corky Miller to put the tying run in scoring position.
"You're going to have ups and downs," Broxton said.
For the Dodgers relievers, workload would explain why, as their 1,184 1/3 innings top the majors.