Kenley Jansen chokes again as Dodgers’ World Series chances fade
LOS ANGELES – Kenley Jansen does not play every day, like Justin Turner, nor does he command the spotlight for several innings every few days like Clayton Kershaw.
Yet, as the Los Angeles Dodgers’ closer, he has represented stability, reflected in his willingness to take the ball, his frequent domination and his ever-present accountability.
Now, however, Jansen is on the verge of being remembered as a primary reason for consecutive failings in the Dodgers’ two quests for a World Series title.
He has thrown 365 pitches in these past two postseasons. Three will be remembered for the wrong reasons.
The most recent came Saturday night in Game 4 of the World Series, the Dodgers five outs from drawing even with the Boston Red Sox, Jansen summoned on consecutive nights to record six outs.
Instead, he coughed up the second game-tying, eighth-inning home run on consecutive nights. And in Game 4, a tapped-out Dodgers bullpen was unable to save its savior.
Steve Pearce turned on an impotent 92-mph cutter and deposited it into the left field seats with one out in the eighth inning, tying the game at 4. Jansen’s second inning of work would never come and instead, the Red Sox romped around the bases for five runs in the ninth inning and an eventual 9-6 victory.
They lead this World Series 3-1 and are overwhelmingly expected to cash in one of their three chances to capture their fourth championship in the past 15 seasons.
Game 4’s line score shows a bludgeoning of the Dodgers bullpen after starter Rich Hill departed: Nine runs in the final three innings, only one of them Hill’s responsibility after he was lifted following 6 1/3 innings of one-hit ball.
Heaviest lies the crown of the closer, however, particularly after Pearce’s game-tying blast came on the heels of Jackie Bradley Jr. destroying a nearly identical cutter for a game-tying shot in Friday’s Game 3.
“One bad pitch,” Jansen mused. “One bad pitch yesterday, one bad pitch today. I gotta pay.”
It’s impossible to gauge how the Dodgers might have emerged from these first four games had Jansen cleanly handled his two-inning, Game 3 assignment – coming on five days of rest, manager Dave Roberts noted Saturday.
And Jansen certainly wasn’t responsible for the Game 4 failings of Ryan Madson (who coughed up Mitch Moreland’s pinch-hit, three-run homer) and Dylan Floro (three go-ahead runs in the ninth) merely because his blown save forced those men to work two nights in a row.
But we do know this much: Pedro Baez, the Dodgers’ best reliever this postseason, and steady lefty Julio Urias were both unavailable after working two and one innings, respectively, in Game 3.
A day later, the Dodgers’ glorious 18-inning triumph looked an awful lot like a Pyrrhic victory.
“We’re all disappointed right now,” says Jansen, 31, whose season was disrupted by a heart condition that will require off-season surgery. “At this point, we can’t think about what happened and question ourselves. Same thing for everybody – from the manager to the coaches to the players, we can’t question ourselves.”
Jansen has saved 16 postseason games, and entered Saturday with a career 0.81 walks and hits per inning in the playoffs.
Through Game 1 of the 2017 World Series, he was impeccable: 12 saves in as many chances, 48 strikeouts in 29 1/3 innings and the Dodgers were just three victories from a championship.
Then came Game 2 and the first of his fateful pitches gone awry: A cutter that Houston Astros utilityman Marwin Gonzalez ripped over the Dodger Stadium wall for a game-tying homer. Like this Series, Jansen was attempting a two-out save, though Gonzalez’s shot came leading off the ninth.
The cumulative effect was punishing: The Dodgers would lose that game in 11 innings and never again held the upper hand in that World Series.
“Kenley’s an unbelievable pitcher,” says Floro, who was unscored upon and had retired 24 of 31 batters faced in this playoffs before his Game 4 peppering. “I trust him on the mound every day of the week.
“Look what he’s done in the past – he’s put up unbelievable numbers. I guess that’s the point of this game – you’re going to get tested; it’s how you’re going to bounce back and show them that you can do it.”
Jansen insisted he will be ready should he get that chance in Game 5. The Dodgers may forever wonder how their history might be altered had three of his offerings gone differently.
“I hate the word if,” says Jansen, “but if it had been in the other spot, who knows what would have happened.”
Follow Lacques on Twitter @GabeLacques
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