Matt Kemp takes a few steps back, Dodgers a giant leap forward

Matt Kemp returns from DL and saves 6-5 win over Giants with a great catch. More important, his galvanizing presence could save Dodgers' season.

Matt Kemp is back, back, back.

That's where he was running late Tuesday night, a Marco Scutaro fly ball soaring over his head, a potential come-from-ahead loss to the San Francisco Giants on his shoulders.

Matt Kemp went back, back, back before stretching and catching the fly ball over his right shoulder as he collapsed on the warning track.

BOX SCORE: Dodgers 6, San Francisco 5

With Dodger Stadium shaking in deafening delight, Kemp jumped up and punched the outfield wall with a screaming defiance.

Matt Kemp was home. For the first time in nearly a month, he was home.

Game over. Season begun?

"I've been gone for a while," Kemp said moments later. "I'm just happy to be back."

He's happy? His Dodgers teammates spilled out of the dugout in childlike glee after Kemp's catch stranded two runners on base in saving the Dodgers from another bullpen meltdown in a 6-5 victory.

It wasn't opening day, but it sounded like it. The Dodgers are still in last place, but with their lineup finally including Kemp, Hanley Ramirez, Adrian Gonzalez and Andre Ethier at the same time, there is suddenly hope.

"It's really scary, a scary lineup," Kemp said afterward. "I think things are picking up, good things ahead of us."

Kemp's return to the lineup for the first time since he suffered a hamstring injury May 29 was the biggest pop in the Dodgers' crackling, season-high fourth consecutive victory.

He didn't make a racket like Ramirez's go-ahead two-run rocket of a homer off the left-field foul pole in the sixth inning. He didn't soar like Mark Ellis' surprising two-run homer in the third inning.

But he sprinted home from second base on a shallow single to left in their go-ahead four-run sixth, then saved the game at its final breath, then, after scoring a TKO on the wall, leaped and high-fived half of Los Angeles on his way to the dugout.

The Dodgers' leader is indeed back. Who knows for how far back? Who knows for how long? But for now, their leader is back, and that was enough.

"He gives us a pulse in the middle of the lineup," said Ramirez.

Kemp doesn't awe like Yasiel Puig, and he doesn't consistently impress like Adrian Gonzalez, but make no mistake, he is the heartbeat of this team, and their early-season collapse has been in direct correlation with his own.

So he not only saved this game, he owned this moment, beginning in that sixth inning after he singled to left for his first hit in 28 days. Moments later, he slid across the plate after sprinting from second base on a shallow single to left field by Tim Federowicz.

The hamstring seemed fine. The pulse was back. The dugout erupted with dancing while the cheers rained upon him like confetti. The returning slugger hopped to his feet, pointed down to Federowicz at first base, then jogged into the waiting leaps and slaps and shuffles of a team that looked reborn.

When Kemp was last seen publicly in a Dodgers uniform, he seemed to lack both muscle and confidence, with just two homers and 17 RBIs in 191 at-bats.