A few Dodger players have started marking off the remaining games on the schedule with a felt-tipped pen, sort of like prison inmates counting the days before being released from confinement.
The count stands at 13 to play after Sunday's 5-3 win over the Atlanta Braves before 30,718 fans at Dodger Stadium.
But there are other Dodgers who find these late-season games immensely important to their nebulous futures.
One example is recently recalled outfielder Ralph Bryant, who is hoping that a strong finish will lead into a good spring training and land him a roster spot next season.
Sunday, Bryant found himself starting in right field because Mike Marshall was out with what the Dodgers called "general soreness." Marshall later explained that, though sore, he really just wanted a day off going into tonight's series at San Francisco.
Whatever the reason for Marshall's absence, Bryant seized the opportunity. He went 3 for 4, had 2 runs batted in and 2 runs scored to lead a 10-hit attack. Rookie pitcher Tim Belcher, also trying to impress Dodger executives, gave up 3 runs and 5 hits in 6 innings to improve his record to 3-1. And Alejandro Pena, emerging as the club's most effective reliever, pitched three scoreless innings for his sixth save.
The win lifted the Dodgers (64-85) out of a last-place tie with the San Diego Padres and into fourth place in the National League West, a game ahead of the Padres and a half-game ahead of the Braves.
Bryant's motivation Sunday was personal as well as team-related. No one, he said, wants to finish last, but Bryant already is thinking ahead to next season.
"Every start is important to me," said Bryant, who had his second three-hit game against the Braves in a week. "I started against Houston and didn't do very well (three strikeouts against Nolan Ryan), so today I just went out there and tried to hit the ball.
"It's hard to say about next year. I just want to do well, go to winter ball in the Dominican (Republic) and then have a good spring. A lot of guys are thinking about what's going to happen, but I just try to do the best I can and see what happens."
What happened at Dodger Stadium Sunday prompted Dodger Manager Tom Lasorda to call Bryant "a top prospect."
Bryant, batting fourth in place of Marshall, singled in two runs in the first inning and later scored on Mike Scioscia's single. He singled again in the third off Brave starter Charlie Puleo, then singled and scored in the sixth. Bryant struck out in the eighth against reliever Jeff Dedmon.
His only other mistake came in the third, when he dropped a routine liner in right. But it did not result in a run and was pretty much forgotten afterward.
Bryant, technically a rookie even though he played in 27 games last season and 6 in 1985, is still at the point in his career in which he is nervous before games. He arrived at the clubhouse Sunday and was told by coach Bill Russell that he would be in the lineup. Then, apparently, Marshall was back in and Bryant out. Finally, Bryant was officially in right field.
"I only found out an hour before the game," he said.
Belcher, conversely, has been in the Dodgers' starting rotation ever since he arrived in a trade with Oakland on Sept. 3. He is 2-1 as a starter, picking up another win in relief on Sept. 6.
Belcher had a rough first inning, giving up two runs on two hits and a walk. The big blow was a looping double to left by Dale Murphy. After that opening lapse, Belcher gave up only three hits and one run over the next five innings. He was relieved in the seventh by Pena, who allowed only two singles and a walk in three innings.
"I like Belcher," Lasorda said. "Belcher has pitched well ever since he got the ball from us. He's had a good fastball and good control. He definitely deserves a chance (for a spot in the rotation) in spring training."
An optimistic Belcher, who has given up 7 earned runs, struck out 11 and walked only 3 in 20 innings, agreed with Lasorda.
"All I can say is that I've got two starts left this season and then I'll show them what I can do in spring training," Belcher said. "I think they'll take a look at me. I've felt confident ever since my first time out. You get more comfortable as times goes on, and I feel real comfortable with Scioscia behind the plate helping me.
"Everybody tells you that the mark of a good pitcher is if he can recover after giving up runs early. Look at Orel (Hershiser) the other night. He gave up four, then gets a (complete game). It was good that we came right back and scored four runs (in the first) after I (gave up two)." After the four-run first against Puleo, the Dodgers added a fifth run in the sixth, Bryant scoring on pinch hitter Mike Devereaux's ground ball.