Dave Roberts called the pitch a “cement mixer,” which is baseball-speak for a breaking ball that spins but doesn’t really go anywhere.
This one, a cut-fastball, came out of Dodgers closer Kenley Jansen’s right hand in the ninth inning of Saturday night’s game against the Chicago Cubs and headed toward the plate at 90 mph.
The ball hovered near the waist of Anthony Rizzo, on the inner half. The Cubs first baseman known for his prodigious power did not miss the mistake.
Rizzo sent a towering drive to right field that reached 131 feet at its apex and traveled 408 feet for a two-run home run in the ninth inning, turning what looked like a sure Chicago defeat into a 2-1 Cubs victory before a stunned crowd of 51,596 in Dodger Stadium.
Rizzo’s team-leading 19th homer snapped Jansen’s string of 10 1/3 scoreless innings over 10 games, a stretch in which the right-hander held opponents to a .114 average, and it laid to waste a dominant start by right-hander Walker Buehler, who held the Cubs to two hits through seven innings.
“I missed two bad pitches away to Rizzo and tried to make an adjustment by going in, but I just yanked it, and I got punished for it,” Jansen said. “But what can I do? I can’t let one game bother me and let it affect my next one. I have to shake it off.
“It’s not my first [blown-save opportunity] and it won’t be my last. It’s part of the process. I have to believe in myself and continue to work hard to get better.”
The momentum seemed to shift a bit toward the Cubs in the bottom of the eighth when reliever Brandon Kintzler picked off Enrique Hernandez at first base after the Dodgers shortstop’s leadoff single.
That mistake stung even more after David Freese and Chris Taylor singled with two outs. Alex Verdugo, who homered in the fourth inning, grounded out to the pitcher.
“With Kenley’s command, it was very uncharacteristic of him to come in on the first pitch and hit Bryant,” manager Roberts said. “The first two to Rizzo weren’t quality pitches. I actually thought the 2-0 was pretty well executed but didn’t really have any teeth as far as finish. And the way Rizzo is swinging the bat, you have to make pitches.”
Buehler, who has given up one earned run and nine hits in 22 innings of his last three starts, striking out 26 and walking one, made plenty of quality pitches, striking out six and not walking anyone to out-duel right-hander Yu Darvish through seven innings.
Of Buehler’s 100 pitches, 69 were strikes. Only once, in the sixth inning, did Buehler need more than 16 pitches to retire the side. He retired the first 10 batters of the game and took a no-hitter into the sixth inning before Addison Russell’s one-out single.
Kyle Schwarber followed with a single to right to put two on with one out, but Buehler got Bryant to fly out to right and won a seven-pitch duel with Rizzo, who tapped out to the mound.
“With how efficient he was, the command of the fastball and the breaking ball, I felt like something special was brewing with Walker,” Roberts said. “He was very good tonight.”
So was Darvish, who was making his first appearance in Dodger Stadium since his Game 7 start in the 2017 World Series, when he was rocked for five runs and three hits, including George Springer’s two-run homer, in 12/3 innings of the Dodgers’ 5-1 loss to the Houston Astros.
This was no homecoming party. Darvish, the Dodgers’ prized trade-deadline acquisition in 2017, predicted he would be booed but joked at the beginning of the series that “the Dodgers don’t have many fans here in the first three innings, so maybe it will be on the quieter side.”
It wasn’t. He was greeted by resounding boos during introductions. Those jeers remained robust before his first at-bat in the third inning but dissipated by his second at-bat in the sixth.
Darvish gave up one run and two hits in seven innings, striking out 10 and walking one. He made one glaring mistake, grooving a first-pitch 93-mph fastball to Verdugo to start the fourth inning.
The center fielder crushed it, sending a laser that left his bat at 109 mph and went out at 459 feet in right-center field for his fifth home run of the season, and first since an April 24 game against the Cubs in Chicago.