LOS ANGELES -- Dave Roberts trusted his bullpen, and how could he not? It had been brilliant on this postseason stage, often unhittable and always impenetrable. And so when the Dodgers' skipper pulled starter Rich Hill after just four innings, there was certainly merit to the move.
What Roberts didn't know -- what he couldn't have known -- is that Game 2 of the Fall Classic was about to become an 11-inning affair in which his 'pen, including untouchable closer Kenley Jansen, was about to crack in a 7-6 loss. As a result, the World Series is tied at one win apiece as it heads to Houston and, for the first time all month, the Dodgers' bullpen -- and the utilization of that 'pen -- is under scrutiny.
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Here's the thing about Roberts' moves Wednesday night: They darn near worked. There is an alternate reality in which Jansen performs as he typically does and Roberts is being lauded as a savant right now.
As it stands in real life, Roberts was left to explain why he yanked Hill when he did, causing the bullpen to ultimately be stretched thin. The left-handed Hill, who had allowed a run on three hits with three walks and seven strikeouts, was pulled with the top of the Astros' lineup -- notably, five consecutive right-handed hitters -- due up.
"There was a chance [Hill would go longer]," Roberts said. "I just felt that right there with the top of their order coming up, and with the way our bullpen has been throwing ... just trust the guys behind him."
Hill was visibly upset in the dugout when the move was made. By the time he spoke with reporters, a cooler head prevailed.
"I think looking outside of the competitor that I am, I understand it," Hill said. "Anybody in this room is here for a reason, because they are the ultimate competitors and they want to keep fighting. But I understand it from the outside."
Initially, the bullpen delivered. Kenta Maeda was brought in to handle the right-handed-heavy top of the lineup and pitched 1 1/3 effective innings. Tony Watson relieved Maeda in the sixth and got an inning-ending double-play ball. Thomas Stripling walked the only batter he faced in the seventh, but Brandon Morrow came aboard to get the Dodgers out of that jam and preserve what was a 3-1 lead.
The trouble began to arise in the eighth. Morrow began the inning but wound up facing just one batter. Alex Bregman lined a ball into the right-field corner. Yasiel Puig had what Statcast™ determined to be a 32-percent chance to catch the ball but couldn't come up with it on a diving attempt. It hit off his glove bounced over the wall for a ground-rule double, and Puig slammed his glove to the ground in frustration.
That's when Roberts opted to go to Jansen for the six-out save opportunity. Because he was so quick to turn to his closer, Roberts was asked if he considered just giving him a clean inning in the first place.
"I thought about it, I thought about it," Roberts said. "But I just felt that where Morrow's pitch count was at right there, and we had him being able to go one-plus. So I just felt that Bregman had a really good at-bat against Kenley last night, and I felt if Brandon can get Bregman, then I was going to go to Kenley then."
"We didn't come to L.A. thinking we couldn't beat them," Astros manager A.J. Hinch said. "We obviously proved we can put some good at-bats together against good pitching. They've had the best bullpen in baseball this postseason, and much of the season. We know it's a challenge any time those guys are getting in there when they get the lead."
The Dodgers still had a 3-2 lead at that point, and a Jansen save still seemed like a formality. But the moment Game 2 really began to morph from a nice, reasonably tidy ballgame to an all-time classic commotion was when Marwin Gonzalez opened the ninth with a home run over the left-center-field wall. Jansen tried to throw his trademark cutter up and in, but he missed his spot and Gonzalez made him pay, stunning the 54,293 in attendance.
"That one pitch flattened out, and he got it," Jansen said. "You can't beat yourself up on anything that happened."
The Astros beat up on the Dodgers' bullpen from there. Roberts gave the 10th inning to Josh Fields, and the Astros pounded away at him, with back-to-back homers from Altuve and Correa and a double from Yuli Gurriel. Tony Cingrani came in to escape the jam, and the Dodgers came back to tie it in the bottom of the 10th. But when the 11th dawned, Brandon McCarthy, who hadn't pitched since Oct. 1, was the last reliever available in Roberts' bullpen. McCarthy's rust showed quickly, as he allowed a Cameron Maybin single and George Springer's go-ahead homer in succession.
"It took me a while to really settle in and get it flowing," McCarthy said. "It was just too late."
Because of Thursday's off-day between Games 2 and 3, the Dodgers' bullpen is in no way compromised by Roberts' aggressive hook of Hill and the extra innings that followed. Jansen said he will be readily available for Game 3.
But because of the way Game 2 unfolded, the L.A. bullpen no longer has the veil of impermeability it once did. The Dodgers are hoping for a deeper start from Yu Darvish and a chance to reprove themselves in the 'pen by locking down a lead Friday night.
"Listen, they were good tonight," Jansen said of the Astros. "They do what they're supposed to do. We're going to try to do it again in Game 3."