LOS ANGELES – For Kenley “Kenleyfornia” Jansen these days, there is no such thing as a routine save.
He had to defuse a controversial, bases-loaded landmine in the ninth inning on Saturday to secure the Dodgers’ 2-1 win over the Yankees at Dodger Stadium.
Setting aside the angst and drama and intrigue that now accompanies him to the mound, Jansen capped four scoreless innings from a Dodgers bullpen that will need to repeat this lockdown relay throughout October if this Interleague Series and possible World Series preview actually ends up as the World Series matchup.
“It was good for him, it was good for all of us,” Dodgers manager Dave Roberts said of Jansen’s 27th save and first since Aug. 6. “Need? Maybe a little strong. But for him, for us, it was really good to see. Kenley showed right there he can still command the baseball in a big spot and make the pitches.”
The win went to rookie Tony “Goooose” Gonsolin, who outpitched 251-game winner CC Sabathia. Justin “Redturn2” Turner's two-run homer in the third inning gave the Dodgers the lead and after allowing an Aaron Judge solo shot, Gonsolin turned over the slim advantage to Joe Kelly for five outs, then Pedro Báez for four outs. Kelly has a 1.33 ERA since May 28 and Baez has a 2.45 ERA in his last 15 outings.
On came the embattled Jansen, who had blown his two previous save opportunities and three of his past six. If the game started with the buzz of a postseason series, the ninth inning started with Dodgers fans holding their collective breath.
Things got weird with the first batter, Jansen’s fellow Curacao native Didi Gregorius. Gregorius homered twice Friday night, but this time gifted his countryman the first out by bunting foul to the abandoned left side twice for a strikeout while trying to beat the shift.
Then came soft contact. Gleyber Torres succeeded in beating the shift with a slow bouncer for a single. Brett Gardner's bouncer went off the glove of diving first baseman Matt Beaty, whose throw to first couldn’t get Gardner because Jansen was late covering the base. Gio Urshela's tapper was fielded by third baseman Turner, whose late throw to Max Muncy at second base triggered a Muncy “soccer flop” (according to the second baseman himself) and several reviews, resulting in an overturned out call and loading the bases with one out.
“You can’t worry about the results. Right now, I got to get out of my head,” said Jansen. “Just have fun. Got to go back to how it was when I was 6 years old. Can’t let that stuff annoy you.”
Jansen seemed instead to let the stuff inspire him. Flashing back to the days when he was the best closer in the league, with surprising velocity and renewed command, he struck out Mike Tauchman on three pitches -- the last a fastball, not a cutter. Next was Gary Sánchez, who fouled a fastball and cutter, took a cutter for a ball, then whiffed on a 94.1 mph sinker to end the game.
“Straight out adrenaline,” Jansen said of his mid-90s pitches. “I was a happy man on the mound today. I never lose my confidence. I know who I am. It [stinks] that the results aren’t there, but guess what? The cutter everybody’s been hitting got me out of there today. I guess it’s still good.”
“We had a conversation the other day about if he’s not able to get it done, we’ll pick him up and we’re going to need [him] to pick us up,” said Turner. “That play in the ninth, sure enough there was Kenley picking me up. He was great, the velocity and command was there. It was fun to watch when he’s got his old mix going.”
“That last batter, he looked like his old self," Muncy said. "The movement was really, really sharp. If he can find a way to keep that going, we’re going to be in good shape.”
While Gonsolin is on a short leash that left four innings for the bullpen, that’s not unlike the norm for a postseason game. Roberts conceded some of his pitching decisions reflected that.
“A little bit of bullpen status (four relievers were used Friday night), a little bit of getting these guys to run the exercise of going one-plus, a lot of it was to win the baseball game,” he said. “Those guys showed really well today.”