Kemp's two-out single with the bases loaded in the 10th inning sent the Dodgers to a 3-1 victory Friday night that improved their wild-card chances and blocked the Cincinnati Reds' first attempt to clinch the NL Central.
The Dodgers won for only the fifth time in 15 games and moved two games behind St. Louis for the final NL wild card. They also trail Milwaukee by a half-game in the wild-card race.
"We're all really happy right now," said Kemp, who had three of the Dodgers' seven hits. "But there's definitely a long way to go."
Manager Don Mattingly treated it like an elimination game, knowing the next one will be just like it. With only 11 left, Los Angeles needs a hot streak now.
"The window closes," Mattingly said before the game. "You've got less games. That's where everybody knows we're at. We're going to have to rattle off some games."
Cincinnati was trying to lock up its second division title in three years without manager Dusty Baker, still in a Chicago hospital. The 63-year-old Baker was hospitalized on Wednesday with an irregular heartbeat.
The Reds will get two more chances to clinch on Saturday. The Cardinals play in Chicago at 1:05 p.m. EDT, where a loss would give the title to the Reds at about the time their 4 p.m. game against the Dodgers is starting. It's unclear whether Baker will be able to attend.
"Of course, everyone in here and in the organization wants him to partake in this, but the reality is he's got to stay focused on getting healthy," bench coach Chris Speier said. "This is going to happen. It would be nice if he was here, but for me, the sooner the better."
Just like in 2010, when they clinched on Jay Bruce's leadoff homer in the ninth inning off Houston's Tim Byrdak for a 3-2 victory, the Reds had a chance at another last-swing celebration. This time, Bruce struck out swinging to open the ninth.
"I thought about it before the at bat, too," Bruce said. "It was a pretty big moment in my career. I didn't forget about it. I felt like it was a playoff atmosphere, a must-win for them. They played us tough."
Finally, the Dodgers' slumping offense came through.
Los Angeles loaded the bases in the 10th off Sam LeCure (3-3), who hit Elian Herrera to open the inning. First baseman Joey Votto tried for a forceout on A.J. Ellis' sacrifice, but skipped his throw and both runners were safe. After Nick Punto's bunt, Mark Ellis walked to load the bases.
The Dodgers have scored two or fewer runs in seven of their last 10 games, the main culprit in a losing streak that has left them trailing in the wild-card standings.
"We got that key hit that we needed," Kemp said. "We haven't been doing too well getting hits with men on base. We finally got the job done."
Cincinnati got its first opportunity to win the NL Central after the Cubs rallied to beat the Cardinals 5-4 in 11 innings earlier Friday at Wrigley Field. That game was shown on the videoboard during batting practice and drew cheers from early arriving fans.
For Cincinnati, it was time to start preparing for a party that's on hold for at least one more day.
Cincinnati's Bronson Arroyo gave up six hits in eight innings, including a run that scored on Juan Rivera's groundout in the second. Arroyo tied it with an RBI single in the fifth off Joe Blanton, who allowed only four hits in 5 2/3 innings.
Blanton didn't sense any extra importance to the night, even though the Reds were ready to celebrate and the Dodgers were desperate for a win.
"It just felt like another game," Blanton said. "Maybe because I've been in so many, it feels like just another one."
The crowd of 35,397 kept waiting for that one finishing hit that never came.
The Dodgers are 8-7 in extra innings, the Reds 7-7. ... A.J. Ellis is hitless in his last 26 at-bats. ... Dodgers LHP Ted Lilly had arthroscopic surgery on his left shoulder. He's expected to start throwing again in six to eight weeks. ... Reds LF Ryan Ludwick was out of the lineup for a second straight game with a sore groin. ... Reds SS Zack Cozart was back after missing 14 games with strained muscles in his left side.