The alarms flickered around Kenley Jansen as he toiled in Thursday’s ninth inning. A quartet of Cardinals reached base. A pair of Dodgers relievers warmed up inside the bullpen. A non-save situation approached the precipice of a collapse.
Jansen was able to escape, collecting the final outs of a 9-7 victory over the Cardinals and yielding only two runs in the process. The outing still offered a one-inning snapshot of the worries generated by Jansen throughout this season. In his second outing back after his heart condition kept him out of a series in Denver, he issued two walks, gave up a hit and watched two runs score after a throwing error by Manny Machado in a harrowing sequence.
Jansen steeled himself to generate an exit with the tying run at the plate. He flung a 92-mph cutter that Cardinals slugger Matt Adams tapped to first base. Jansen pointed skyward as his teammates gathered to celebrate.
“It got a little nerve-racking there,” manager Dave Roberts said after his team nearly blew an 8-1 lead. “Obviously, he’s our guy. But he wasn’t sharp tonight. And he found a way to close it out for us.”
The victory pulled the Dodgers within one game of St. Louis in the race for the second wild-card spot. The Dodgers can overtake the Cardinals during this four-game series at Busch Stadium. They gained no ground on the Colorado Rockies, who downed the Diamondbacks on Thursday to maintain a 1½ -game advantage in the National League West.
The final inning left Roberts weary and Jansen sheepish. He conceded he was far from his best. The result trumped any individual concerns.
“Just got the job done,” Jansen said. “Can’t worry about it.”
A day after blitzing Cincinnati for eight runs, the offense strung together 16 hits Thursday. Machado homered, doubled and singled as he drove in three runs. David Freese delivered a two-run triple in the first inning. Chris Taylor scored a pair of runs. Enrique Hernandez, Austin Barnes and Matt Kemp all contributed multi-hit nights as the team’s much-maligned lineup against left-handed pitching came through.
“I’m not throwing strikes,” Jansen said. “That’s the one thing. But you got to keep going.”
Kershaw’s counterpart on the mound was St. Louis left-handed rookie Austin Gomber. The Dodgers spotted Kershaw a three-run lead. Taylor and Machado greeted Gomber with first-inning singles. The hits set the table for Freese.
Freese has not played for the Cardinals since 2013, but his legacy in this city is secure. He grew up in the nearby suburbs and led the team to a championship in 2011. Freese was the MVP in the National League Championship Series and again in the World Series — his two-out triple in the ninth inning kept the season alive. He had visited Busch Stadium as a Pittsburgh Pirate in June, but the fans still greeted his arrival on Thursday with a lengthy ovation.
“It’s humbling,” Freese said. “It’s a little embarrassing. But it’s cool.”
Freese doffed his helmet to the crowd. Then he tangled with Gomber for 14 pitches. Freese fouled off fastballs on the hands and curveballs at the shins. At last he turned on a belt-high changeup and yanked it down the third base line.
Both runners scored as the baseball rattled around the left-field corner. Freese lugged himself to third with a triple. He scored when Kemp dunked a single into center field.
The Cardinals slashed away at the deficit immediately. Matt Carpenter, the St. Louis first baseman and MVP candidate, cracked a leadoff single. A double by second baseman Yairo Munoz put runners at the corners. Carpenter scored on a groundout, before Kershaw quashed the threat.
After an RBI double from Machado in the third, Kershaw aided his own cause in the fourth. He came to bat after Hernandez and Austin Barnes had singled. Kershaw squared to bunt as Gomber made his delivery, then pulled his bat back and flicked the pitch into left field. It splashed in the grass as Hernandez raced home.
“We did what we needed to do,” Machado said. “We hit with runners in scoring position. We got the runs in.”
The Cardinals trimmed the gap to four during the fifth inning, which was an ordeal for Kershaw. He had struck out seven entering the frame, and he collected his eighth against Harrison Bader to start the inning. Little else went right from there.
Kershaw hung a slider to Ross, who had remained in the game to soak up innings. He also proved dangerous at the plate. Ross hammered the pitch to center field. Hernandez leaped at the wall but could not prevent the second homer of Ross’ career.
“I can’t give up a homer to the pitcher,” Kershaw said. “Obviously.”
Carpenter followed the bizarre blast with a bunt single. Munoz stroked a single into left. Martinez hit a grounder to the right side of the diamond. Freese fumbled the fielding, which left the bases loaded. A single by Marcell Ozuna and a sacrifice fly by Paul DeJong brought the tying run into the on-deck circle.
Kershaw fell behind in the count, 3-0, to third baseman Jedd Gyorko, who was given the green light and lined out to Taylor in left field. “The fifth inning — my fault,” Kershaw said.
Machado eased the burden on the pitchers in the seventh when a slider from Cardinals reliever John Brebbia hummed down the middle. Machado parked the pitch on the center-field berm and rounded the bases on his 10th homer as a Dodger and 34th of the season.
An RBI single by DeJong against Maeda slimmed the lead back to four before Jansen arrived in the ninth.
From the start, Jansen was imprecise. He walked Munoz and gave up a single to Martinez. After Ozuna flied out, Jansen walked DeJong. With the bases loaded, Gyorko cracked a grounder up the middle. Brian Dozier fed Machado, who overthrew first base. Instead of a game-ending double play, two runs scored.
Jansen avoided total collapse, getting Adams with one pitch. He did not record a save. But his team won.
“Every game right now,” Roberts said, “is so important.”