SAN FRANCISCO — As the gravity of their 5-2 loss to the San Francisco Giants started to sink in, there was a noticeable change in rhetoric in the Dodgers clubhouse Friday night.
Talk shifted from the division race to the wild-card race.
“Getting there is what your goal is,” outfielder Shane Victorino said. “Winning the division is your first goal, but if we don’t win the division, it’s about getting in the playoffs.”
Josh Beckett agreed.
“You want a chance,” Beckett said. “The only way you get a chance is if you win one of those wild-card spots.”
On Friday the Dodgers lost a game they couldn’t afford to lose, and fell to a season-high 51/2 games behind the first-place Giants.
The Dodgers have only 23 games left on their schedule. If the Giants win half of their remaining 24 games, the Dodgers would have to close the season on a 17-6 tear to tie for the division lead. Given their continued struggles to score — they’re averaging only 2.8 runs in their last eight games — that would appear unlikely.
The Dodgers have 14 games against teams that would make the playoffs if the season ended now. The Giants have none.
On the positive side: three of the Dodgers’ remaining games are against the St. Louis Cardinals, who currently hold the second of two wild-card positions. The Cardinals started the day 11/2 games ahead of the Dodgers.
Manager Don Mattingly tried to downplay his team’s latest defeat, the fourth in seven games since he held a closed-door meeting with players. He said the Dodgers didn’t come to the Bay Area thinking they had to sweep the Giants.
The manager also defended his decision to let Beckett face Marco Scutaro with one out and the bases loaded in the seventh inning. Scutaro’s single to right field drove in two runs, turning a 2-2 stalemate into a 4-2 lead for the Giants.
Beckett began the seventh with a pitch count of only 78. But he had completed seven innings only once since June 11, and Mattingly had no reliever warming up when the inning began — in fact Brandon League was just starting to make his way to the bullpen when Beckett walked Brandon Crawford to put men on first and second.
Mattingly denied that he was slow to act, pointing out that he had the option to use either Beckett or League to face Scutaro.
Beckett said he was glad Mattingly left him in the game.
“I hope he does it again,” Beckett said. “I’ll make a better pitch.”
Beckett was charged with four runs and seven hits in 61/3 innings.
“I have to pitch better,” he said. “They didn’t bring me here to pitch OK. They brought me over to pitch good.”
Meanwhile, the Dodgers’ Big Four of Adrian Gonzalez, Matt Kemp, Hanley Ramirez and Andre Ethier continued to struggle, combining to go 0 for 17.
The Dodgers were 0 for 10 with men in scoring position.
They took a brief 2-1 lead in the sixth inning, when 36-year-old utilityman Adam Kennedy hit a solo home run off Giants starter Tim Lincecum that cleared the 24-foot brick wall in right field. Kennedy started at third base over hot-hitting Luis Cruz because of his .381 lifetime average against Lincecum before Friday.
A hero in the top of the inning, Kennedy was a goat in the bottom half, when he tried for a barehand pickup of Hunter Pence’s slow tapper. The ball rolled under his hand and into left field, allowing Angel Pagan to score and tie it, 2-2.