Dodgers' Kenley Jansen reverts to a question mark with Game 4 loss

Bill Shaikin
·4 min read
The Dodgers' Kenley Jansen drops to his knees after giving up a walk-off single in Game 4 of the World Series.
Dodgers reliever Kenley Jansen drops to his knees after giving up a walk-off single with two outs in the ninth inning Saturday night. The Dodgers committed two defensive miscues on the play. (Wally Skalij / Los Angeles Times)

The Dodgers thought they had the ninth inning solved. They thought they had Kenley Jansen fixed. They thought Clayton Kershaw would be pitching for a World Series championship on Sunday.

If there is a more excruciating way for the Dodgers to find out they were wrong three times over, please spare them the pain.

The Jansen of old would have powered through the ninth inning Saturday, handed a one-run lead with no need to face the heart of the opposing batting order. The Jansen of 2020 got one strikeout, then failed to retire three of the next four batters.

There would be no other batter. The Tampa Bay Rays walked off, winning Game 4 of the World Series on a wacky play that will live forever in the lore of the Fall Classic.

Jansen walked off too, shadowed by the concerns that he and the Dodgers thought had been extinguished. He has reverted from an exclamation point to a question mark.

The World Series is suddenly a best-of-three, with the Rays’ top three starters lined up for those three games and the Dodgers forced to cobble a bullpen game in Game 6.

“We know we are good,” Jansen said. “We are going to come in and win the game tomorrow.”

Jansen, the Dodgers’ all-time saves leader, last lost a postseason game in 2017, in Game 5 of the World Series against the Houston Astros. He blew two save opportunities in the 2018 World Series against the Boston Red Sox, according to Baseball Reference.

On Saturday, he blew a save opportunity, and he took the loss. He did not berate himself.

“You can’t beat yourself up,” he said. “I didn’t give up one hard hit. What can I do?”

That was not the answer Dodgers fans might have wanted to hear, but he was not entirely incorrect.

Jansen struck out the first batter, pinch-hitter Yoshi Tsutsugo. He gave up a broken-bat single to the next batter, Kevin Kiermaier. He got Joey Wendle to line out — a ball that was hard-hit, at 98 mph.

He walked Randy Arozarena, who had a home run and two singles earlier in the game. That put the tying run in scoring position and the winning run on first base. Brett Phillips, batting for the first time in the game, dropped a single into center field.

Chris Taylor bobbled the ball, and the relay throw from Max Muncy caromed off the mitt of catcher Will Smith.

It is doubtful that Jansen could have recovered the loose ball in time to impact the play, but the fact was that Jansen did not back it up.

At first, Jansen said he was not entirely sure whether he should back up home plate or third base.

“I tried to see what could I do, run a little bit more, see the play,” he said.

Asked again about the play, Jansen declined to offer a more detailed explanation.

“It don’t matter,” he said. “Tomorrow’s another day. We’re positive in there, I like the atmosphere in there, that’s what we’ve done all year, pick each other up.”

Before the game, Dodgers manager Dave Roberts delighted in what appeared to be the return of the Jansen of old, but he refused to say Jansen would be used exclusively as the closer.

“He’s back into the highest of leverage,” Roberts said. “I don’t want to put him in a corner or a box.”

The high-leverage situation is once again a high-risk proposition.

Jansen, of course, is not lacking for confidence.

“Broken-bat single, bloop single,” he said, “ain’t no time to hang your heads.”

Jansen was not wrong about the balls that went for hits. The Kiermaier broken-bat single had an exit velocity of 64 mph; Phillips’ flare that turned into the game-tying hit and game-winning error had an exit velocity of 83 mph.

But the highlight reels do not display exit velocity. They show the human emotion, of Phillips and the Rays going crazy, of Jansen and the Dodgers shuffling off the field.

If the Dodgers win the series, who cares?

If the Dodgers lose, then this play will be the 2020 version of the Bill Buckner play in the 1986 World Series, and their fans will see Jansen and their team shuffling off the field for years to come, maybe decades.

This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.