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SF@LAD: Kemp collects four hits in the game

LOS ANGELES -- The chants of "M-V-P" that have echoed throughout Dodger Stadium for the last month or so got undeniably louder Thursday night.

In the Dodgers' final home game of 2011, an 8-2 victory over San Francisco, Matt Kemp continued what he's done throughout his electrifying season, as he notched a career-high three doubles, belted a long two-run homer and made a sprawling play in center field.

Really, it was nothing new.

The Dodgers' five-tool center fielder not only continued to cement his name at the forefront of the MVP discussion, but he gave himself an outside shot at a 40-40 season and even the Triple Crown. Kemp leads the National League in RBIs, trails the Cardinals' Albert Pujols by one home run and sits third in the batting race, just four points behind Milwaukee's Ryan Braun.

No one has accomplished the feat since Boston's Carl Yastrzemski did so in 1967, and while Kemp's opportunity is still an outside shot, at the rate he's hit in the last week, it doesn't seem out of the realm of possibility.

"Pretty unbelievable," Kemp said of the atmosphere Thursday at Chavez Ravine. "I felt it tonight."

But Triple Crowns, MVPs and 40-40 seasons aren't going to be on Kemp's mind in the season's final week, when the Dodgers head to San Diego and then Arizona.

"Six more games, I'm not going to put any more pressure on myself," said Kemp, who noted he was inspired by his mother sitting in the front row behind the on-deck circle. "I'm just going to hit the ball hard and we'll see where it goes."

Lately, it's gone wherever the opposing fielders aren't, and by his own manager's definition, there's little doubt who is the most valuable in the National League.

"You talk about a guy that's kind of the total package and shown it all, he's been doing that all year long," Don Mattingly said. "If you're looking for the guy that's basically been the best player in baseball or the best player in the National League, I think you've got to look at Matt."

Mattingly did acknowledge, however, what experts have been saying all along: that Kemp playing for a team that won't make the playoffs will probably hurt his cause among voters. Braun, who will be playing in October, will likely garner more votes for his team's overall success.

Recently, however, the Dodgers have seen their own share of success. After falling 14 games below .500 following a July 6 loss, they have rallied and now sit a game above the mark. The hot streak prompted Kemp to note he thinks a playoff berth might be in the cards for the 2012 season.

"That's what I believe," Kemp said. "I believe if we continue to play the way we've been playing these past two months, it's going to be hard for anybody to beat us. I have all the faith in my team."

But it wasn't just Kemp who carried the Dodgers to their 78th win. Starting pitcher Hiroki Kuroda left to a standing ovation in what might have been his last start in Dodger Stadium.

After the season, Kuroda will be left in the same situation he was last offseason, when he opted to sign a one-year deal instead of returning to Japan to pitch for his home club, the Hiroshima Carp.

"At this moment I really don't know and that really hasn't entered my mind yet," said Kuroda, who added that he was touched by the fans' reaction when he left the mound in the top of the eighth.

As he's been for most of his four years with the Dodgers, the righty was quietly effective, lulling the Giants to sleep during seven-plus innings of five-hit, two-run ball.

If he chooses not to return to Chavez Ravine, it's likely he'll be remembered for outings like Thursday's.

On a night when the Dodger Stadium fans sang "Happy Birthday" to former manager Tommy Lasorda and cheered as Kemp and Clayton Kershaw were honored for their seasons with video tributes, there was Kuroda, quietly plugging along with little trouble -- the only blemishes a pair of solo home runs.

He even got in on the action at the plate, looping a fourth-inning single to shallow right. The ball was perfectly placed between outfielder Carlos Beltran and second baseman Jeff Keppinger, who had it hit his glove as he was sprinting toward the outfield before it dropped.

It allowed for Dee Gordon, who stayed hot with two hits, to drive home the Dodgers' fourth run a batter later. They tacked on two more in the fifth off Giants relievers to just about ice the game.

When Kemp stepped up in the eighth, the game was already decided. But, with a bit of flair for the dramatic, Kemp took the last pitch he saw at Dodger Stadium in 2011 and crushed a no-doubter to the center-field batter's eye, giving him 36 homers to go along with 40 steals.

With that, those three letters resonated even louder, and so, too, did Kemp's candidacy for the award. Comments