The crowd rose as “California Love” blared from the speakers. Kenley Jansen emerged from the bullpen, the final piece of a seemingly perfectly laid pitching plan.
Manager Dave Roberts, whose Dodgers didn’t add a top-end reliever before the trade deadline, called for the most formulaic pattern on the mound. Walker Buehler went six scoreless innings. Pedro Baez took the seventh. Adam Kolarek and Joe Kelly handled the eighth.
Jansen was the final variable in the equation, on for the save with the Dodgers leading the Arizona Diamondbacks by two in the top of the ninth. He was punished for a misplaced cutter.
Carson Kelly took the closer deep, a game-tying two-run homer that soured a Dodger Stadium crowd already suspicious of the club’s bullpen. The Dodgers’ 3-2 defeat wasn’t sealed until the 11th inning, after Kelly went yard again against Julio Urias. But no one’s head hung as low as Jansen’s as he walked off the mound in the ninth.
The right-hander’s fifth blown save began with a bloop single by Nick Ahmed. Kelly batted next, fouling off a pair of high cutters to force a seven-pitch at-bat. Catcher Will Smith appeared to want another cutter low and away, but Jansen left it elevated. Kelly put it in the bleachers.
“His ball just didn’t have any life to it,” Roberts said. “He gives up a flare … and then leaves a pitch up and out over. That was the ninth inning.”
After Kelly’s second homer, on a Urias changeup that was deposited into the right-field seats for his first career multi-home-run game, the Dodgers couldn’t respond. After tallying just two hits all night — doubles from Corey Seager and Smith during a two-run third inning — their typical late-game magic was quelled by reliever Archie Bradley, who worked around a leadoff walk in the 11th and caught a break when a video review of a potential hit-by-pitch upheld the call that A.J. Pollock was out.
“They missed it,” Roberts said of the call, which ruled it was a a popup off Pollock’s bat, not a pitch that hit his wrist. “That’s just a fact. When you have the system in place to get it right, and it was clearly wrong, that impacted the game.”
Tensions ran high at the end. After the review, former teammates Pollock and Bradley exchanged words. After the final out, the benches cleared and an animated Roberts got into a yelling match with Arizona starting pitcher Robbie Ray.
“Things are getting defused, and then you see another person that is really trying to instigate,” Roberts said. “It’s not necessary. I don’t think that we instigated anything.”
Buehler took a tough no-decision after posting a stat line that belied the struggle behind it. He threw six scoreless innings but faced one of his most stressful home starts of the year a week after cruising to a 15-strikeout complete game. He left the bases loaded in the second and stranded two others in the sixth.
Buehler’s best sequence might have come in the third. Back-to-back singles led off the frame, putting runners on the corners. Then he pumped nine straight pitches over the plate, producing a line out and pair of punchouts to escape.
“Not as clean, not as efficient as I would like, but got lucky,” Buehler said. “Made some good pitches and good defense and got out of it unscathed.”
On a night when his command was shaky and his best breaking pitches were absent, he relied on tough mental resolve instead. After recording his final out, Buehler toweled sweat from his brow while Roberts shook his hand for a job well done.
“To his credit,” Roberts said, “[he] finds a way to get out of innings.”
Both had to swallow what came next — the latest implosion from a Dodgers bullpen that has the best ERA in baseball since the start of June, but has converted less than two-thirds of its save opportunities and remains the team’s biggest question entering the stretch run.
“Kenley’s just got to execute,” Roberts said. “When he doesn’t, guys like Kelly or anyone that can slug you, you make a mistake up and out over and there’s a chance that can happen.”