On Saturday morning, the closer approached the manager. After Kenley Jansen logged two innings for the Dodgers on Friday night, Dave Roberts told him to expect a day off. Roberts repeated the message when the team gathered at Miller Park less than 12 hours later. Jansen understood Roberts’ caution, but left him an opening.
“If something crazy happens,” Jansen told Roberts, “I’m still available.”
The insanity arrived in the ninth, as the Dodgers staged a rally against the Brewers. When pinch-hitter Austin Barnes singled off Milwaukee reliever Carlos Torres to load the bases, Jansen stood up in the Dodgers’ bullpen. He was still loosening when Chris Taylor scorched a grand slam to cap a five-run inning that erased a three-run deficit in a 10-8 victory.
The blast extended Taylor’s star turn and solidified his case as one of Roberts’ most reliable regulars. Acquired in a quiet trade last summer, in exchange for former pitching prospect Zach Lee, Taylor reshaped his swing over the winter and emerged as a force. In parts of three seasons with Seattle, Taylor homered only once. On Saturday he provided his seventh homer of this season, improving his on-base-plus-slugging percentage to a team-best .985.
In the end, a game defined by Jansen’s perceived unavailability ended with him closing out his ninth save of 2017. Even before Jansen arrived, the afternoon was packed with intrigue. The Dodgers (35-22) recovered from a grand slam allowed by Josh Fields in the seventh. The team capitalized on a pair of errors by Milwaukee. The lead-foot Dodgers even stole seven bases.
“This had everything,” Roberts said. “It was a crazy game.”
The comeback expunged any frustration with the pitching staff. Starter Rich Hill logged only four innings. The uncertainty with Jansen affected Roberts’ strategy. Trying to siphon up outs with his other relievers, Roberts sent Chris Hatcher back for a second inning in the seventh. Hatcher promptly walked three batters.
Tasked with extinguishing the blaze, Fields combusted. He was an obvious choice for the moment, bases loaded, one out, a game on the line. Fields began the day with an ERA of 0.81, having struck out 32.5% of the batters he had faced. The Brewers did not appear cowed. Milwaukee third baseman Travis Shaw crushed 2-0 fastball for a grand slam. In the next at-bat, outfielder Hernan Perez sent another fastball into orbit for a solo shot.
“It was just one of those days,” Fields said. “It happens.”
Hill could not protect the early advantage. He handed out a leadoff walk and a double in the bottom of the first. One run scored on a well-hit grounder that hopped over Enrique Hernandez’s glove at third base. A second run scored on a wild pitch.
The Dodgers tied it after Milwaukee starter Matt Garza dropped a throw to first base in the third. Hill responded by yielding a solo homer to first baseman Jesus Aguilar in the bottom of the inning.
Both Hill and Garza departed after the fourth. In the sixth, the Dodgers dinged reliever Jared Hughes. Taylor and Hernandez executed a double steal with Yasiel Puig at the plate. A wild pitch brought Taylor home. Puig added a go-ahead RBI single.
At this point, Roberts pondered how to secure the final 12 outs. Hatcher struck out a pair in the bottom of the sixth. Pedro Baez had thrown two innings on Friday. Sergio Romo and Brandon Morrow are still in the process of earning Roberts’ trust. The manager decided to send Hatcher back for the seventh.
The move backfired. Hatcher “was a little too fine,” Roberts said. And Fields got punished for a pair of elevated fastballs.
The lineup soon picked up the bullpen. The Dodgers cobbled together a run in the eighth after a double by Taylor, who would score on a force out. An inning later, Corey Seager walked with one out. Yasmani Grandal hit a grounder toward first, where Aguilar declined to step on the bag. His throw to second bounced off Seager. The error kept the rally alive.
Barnes loaded the bases with a single. As Jansen watched from the bullpen, rookie Cody Bellinger walked to bring home a run, making it 8-6. To the plate came Taylor. Torres attacked him with cutters. Taylor fouled off one and took another for a strike. Taylor tried to shorten up his swing on a 2-2 cutter — a strategy that did not affect the trajectory of the subsequent blast.
“That’s the funny thing,” Taylor said. “Sometimes your best swing is your two-strike swing, because you don’t try to get too big or do too much.”
Taylor unleashed a drive that traveled an estimated 430 feet before smashing into the batter’s eye behind the center-field fence. His body surged with adrenaline as he rounded the bases. He said he felt like it was the biggest hit of his career. It was part of his team’s fourth win in six games on this trip.
With the lead in hand, Roberts turned to his closer. Jansen was ready for the work. He had pitched only three times in the previous 10 days. He mowed down the Brewers to close the show, an orderly finish to a game that was anything but.
“He knew,” Jansen said, “that I was going to be ready.”