LOS ANGELES -- For all the hype and buzz surrounding a Bryce Harper debut and a Stephen Strasburg start, only one player in the National League these days hears the "MVP ... MVP" serenade.
That would be Matt Kemp, who was at it again Saturday night, the game's hottest star stealing the headlines from Washington's pair of future stars. Kemp's walk-off home run leading off the bottom of the 10th inning gave the Dodgers a 4-3 win over the Nationals, securing a series win over the surprise leaders of the National League East, and helping L.A. reclaim the league's best record at 15-6.
"I've played with a lot of great players, but this guy is as good as it gets," said Jerry Hairston Jr., who survived a 97-mph Strasburg fastball off his left hand (X-rays were negative).
Kemp had to be special to upstage the 19-year-old Harper -- who doubled and had a tiebreaking sacrifice fly in his heavily promoted promotion -- and Strasburg, who hooked up in a duel with Chad Billingsley. Each allowed one run over seven innings for no-decisions, Billingsley rebounding from a horrible start in Houston last weekend.
"It was an exciting game from the first pitch to the last," said Billingsley.
It was Kemp's 11th home run of the season, setting a Dodgers record for the month of April. It was his seventh walk-off hit, five of them homers.
"I hate to say he could be scary. He is scary. He's fun to watch," said manager Don Mattingly.
The homer was launched 423 feet to center field on a 1-2 slider from Tom Gorzelanny, and before Kemp had rounded first, the crowd of 54,242 was in full-throated hero-worship mode.
"MVP ... MVP ... MVP."
"That goes back to last year," said Kemp. "It gives me goosebumps. It's definitely emotional, and it makes me play better. Keep doing that. It's always good to see Dodger Stadium filled like that. That's the Dodger Stadium I remember two or three years ago. Every Friday and Saturday, 56,000 fans. It helps a lot to have them on your side."
After the customary scrum at home plate that gave reliever Jamey Wright his first Dodgers win, Kemp made his way to the dugout seats to acknowledge his mother.
"She's been here when I got 30/30, when I tried for 40/40 in Arizona -- she's my hero, and I look up to her," said Kemp. "She's my little good-luck charm when she's there to see me. I'm very blessed. It's fun for my whole family to experience this ride we're on. I have to keep her here. Might have to buy a condo, or she can stay with me as long as she stays in L.A."
Kemp got the chance to win it only through an improbable rally in the bottom of the ninth, after the Nationals scored runs off Dodgers relievers Scott Elbert and Javy Guerra, who was making a shaky first appearance since taking a line drive off the jaw Wednesday night, in the top of the frame.
Adam LaRoche, who homered in the seventh inning off Billingsley, singled off Elbert leading off the top of the ninth, and was erased at second base on an attempted sacrifice bunt by Rick Ankiel. Danny Espinosa singled off Guerra to send LaRoche to third, and he scored on Harper's sacrifice fly to left. Wilson Ramos then singled home Espinosa.
The Dodgers answered with two runs in the bottom of the ninth off Henry Rodriguez to send the game into extra innings. They opened the ninth with three consecutive hits -- singles by Mark Ellis and James Loney and an RBI ground-rule double by Juan Uribe. The tying run scored on a wild pitch to Dee Gordon, plating Uribe, one of three wild pitches by Rodriguez.
The Dodgers tied the game in the bottom of the seventh. Jerry Hairston was hit on the left hand. Loney followed with a chopper that was booted by second baseman Espinosa. Uribe, failing to bunt, struck out.
A.J. Ellis (2-for-4) then singled to left. Harper made a perfect throw to catcher Ramos ahead of the sliding Hairston, who slapped the ball out of Ramos' glove with his left hand, Hairston scrambling back to the plate on all fours to score the tying run. Nats manager Davey Johnson argued plate umpire Mark Carlson's call, to no avail.
"I slide like that all the time," said Hairston. "It's an aggressive slide, and it so happens I hit his glove. It happens."
Harper finished the night 1-for-3 with a double and RBI.
"I wish we would have gotten the W, of course." Harper said. "We played a great team today. Billingsley threw a great game. We fought until the end. That's not the way you want to start off your career. I just wish we got a W."
Ken Gurnick is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.