LOS ANGELES -- When a closer comes in for a ninth-inning save, he really has one job: Protect the lead, at all costs.
Dodgers closer Kenley Jansen kept that singular goal in mind Friday night against the Cubs when he executed a rare strategy by intentionally balking a baserunner.
Jansen said his intentional balk was executed to prevent sign stealing and was the idea of bench coach Bob Geren.
With two out in the top of the ninth inning, with Jason Heyward on second base and protecting a 5-3 lead, Jansen gave a heads up to second-base umpire D.J. Reyburn that he was going to balk, and then he did, sending Heyward to third base. That’s where he was stranded when Jansen proceeded to strike out Victor Caratini for his 20th save.
“The way the game was going, we definitely want to tighten up the signs, not that the Cubs are stealing signs or anything,” explained Jansen.
“We feel, me and Uncle Bob [Geren], we’ve been talking about it for a little bit and he came up with the idea with [leads of] two runs or three runs and two outs. Especially yesterday, tying run at the plate, not saying anything about nobody, you just never know. Always got to be on your toes. Just be extra little cautious.”
Jansen said the discussion of an intentional balk began in Spring Training, but he kept forgetting to do it.
“I finally thought it was a good time to try it and it turned out pretty well,” said Jansen.
During the previous at-bat, Jansen struck out David Bote on three pitches, but he gave frequent glances at Heyward, once shaking off catcher Russell Martin’s signs, leading Martin to come to the mound for a chat.
After the Bote strikeout, Jansen turned to Reyburn and twice said, “I’m going to balk.” Before the first pitch to Caratini he moved his leg several times, the balk was called and Heyward walked to third base.
Jansen said both Reyburn and Heyward seemed pretty surprised at the overt free base.
"We're going to turn it down next time," Cubs manager Joe Maddon quipped on Saturday. "If in fact that's what he did, there was nothing covert going on. I understand in today's game there's a senstivity to that, but if he did that for that reason, that makes sense. It's not a bad play. If that's true, I commend him."
Dodgers manager Dave Roberts said Geren has more tricks to “put in motion” in the next few days.