LOS ANGELES (AP) — Kenley Jansen is 6-foot-5 and very wide. The Los Angeles closer is undeniably imposing in his home whites on the Dodger Stadium mound even before he throws his cutter, one of the most sadistic and dependable pitches in baseball.
That cutter doesn’t always cut, however.
When Marwin Gonzalez’s tying, ninth-inning homer cleared the fence and stunned Dodger Stadium on Wednesday night, Jansen suddenly didn’t look powerful enough to carry his team to a title on his broad shoulders.
Neither did the Dodgers’ vaunted bullpen, which no longer seems invincible after the Astros’ 7-6, 11-inning victory in Game 2 of the World Series. The Los Angeles relievers’ dominant facade was stomped and shattered, and the stigma from this spectacular meltdown will hover above any close game in the rest of this series.
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“The ball really carried the whole night,” Jansen said after a game featuring eight homers, the most in World Series history. “You can’t do anything about that. One missed pitch. You got me.”
Actually, the Dodgers’ bullpen missed more pitches in Game 2 than it had missed in its nine postseason games before it. One of the most successful relief groups in recent baseball history was battered for 11 hits and six runs by the Astros, including an astonishing four homers in the final three innings.
The home run derby that broke out in Chavez Ravine provided one of the most thrilling postseason games in modern times, but it only happened because of mistakes by Ross Stripling, Brandon Morrow, Jansen, Josh Fields and finally Brandon McCarthy, who gave up George Springer’s winning homer in the 11th .
A group that barely put a foot wrong all summer and into October suddenly couldn’t keep one foot in front of the other.
“We battled out there,” said Jansen, who had never blown a postseason save and never given up a homer on an 0-2 pitch in his career until Gonzalez connected. “Every at-bat, nobody was giving up. We still continued to go out there and pitch, and we didn’t come up big this time.”
Over 30 2/3 innings during its first nine playoff games, the Dodgers’ bullpen had allowed only 12 hits, three earned runs and one homer.
In seven disastrous innings of Game 2, the bullpen gave up 11 hits, six earned runs and those four homers.
And a team that had been 98-0 when leading after eight innings took its first defeat.
Since early in their NL Division Series sweep of Arizona, the Dodgers’ relievers had strung together 28 consecutive scoreless innings. That’s the longest streak in big-league history and a monument to the chemistry of this deep, tested veteran bullpen, put together by a deep-pocketed front office to make up for years of postseason relief problems for a team with five straight NL West titles, but only this World Series berth.
The Dodgers’ bullpen led the NL with a 3.38 ERA this season. Los Angeles added left-handers Tony Watson and Tony Cingrani at the deadline and starter Kenta Maeda for the postseason, building a group that’s deeper and tougher than anything the Dodgers have had in recent years.
“Everybody has so much confidence in everybody else that you’re not worried about giving up the ball,” Morrow said earlier this week. “You know the next guy up will be just as good.”
Moreover, an aura of inevitability had settled around the Dodgers over the previous three weeks while they won eight of their first nine postseason games. A 104-win team was equally exceptional in the postseason, winning close games and blowouts with equal aplomb while steamrolling into the franchise’s first World Series since 1988.
Through it all, the bullpen had been thoroughly dependable — until one incredible game when it wasn’t.
“I just trust the guys behind (Jansen),” Roberts said. “And the bottom line is I’ll take Kenley any day of the week with a one-run lead going into the ninth inning.”
Roberts has been confident enough in his relievers to use them unconventionally and quickly throughout his two-season tenure with the Dodgers. His decision last year to employ Jansen in multiple-inning saves is almost becoming the industry standard, and Roberts has a swift hook for every starter in even minor trouble — even ace Clayton Kershaw.
The long-held paradigm of lengthy, resourceful postseason starts almost seems old-fashioned in this era, particularly around these Dodgers: Rich Hill got only four innings and 60 pitches in Game 2, his third straight brief start. Hill hasn’t thrown 80 pitches or recorded an out in the sixth inning of a playoff game this October, with Roberts preferring to go to the ‘pen at the first sign of trouble.
When Hill was asked if he disagreed with being pulled so early from his World Series start, the 37-year-old veteran was diplomatic.
“I think looking outside of the competitor that I am, I understand it,” Hill said. “The competitive side of me wants to stay in the game and continue to keep going. I felt good. The ball came out of my hand the way I wanted it to.”
Although Maeda’s streak of 18 consecutive outs ended in the sixth, the Dodgers calmly nursed a 3-1 lead into the eighth. Yasiel Puig barely missed a diving catch on Alex Bregman’s double off Morrow, and Carlos Correa brought him home with a single off Jansen.
It was still 3-2, and Dodger Stadium bubbled with anticipation of its usual late-inning celebration — until Gonzalez smacked Jansen’s cut-free cutter and changed the script of the Dodgers’ postseason.
“We’re not frustrated,” Jansen said. “I mean, listen. It isn’t going to be easy. … I didn’t make my pitch. You can’t beat yourself up about that.”
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