Boos accompanied Kenley Jansen’s every step from the mound to the dugout. For the sixth time this season, the Dodgers closer had blown a save opportunity. Once again, the home fans let him have it.
During last week’s trip, when he tossed two scoreless appearances in non-save opportunities, it looked as if Jansen had turned a corner after the latest rocky stretch in his inconsistent season.
When the right-hander took the mound Wednesday night, in a game in which starter Walker Buehler threw seven innings for his seventh scoreless start of the season, it looked like Will Smith’s fourth-inning home run was all the offense the Dodgers would need.
But Jansen couldn’t put away Rowdy Tellez with one out in the ninth. The Toronto Blue Jays first baseman worked the count full, then fouled off a four-seam fastball and cutter down-and-in. On the eighth pitch, Jansen tried to bury another cutter inside. Tellez got to it and lined it over the right-field wall to tie the score.
“Went to the well one too many times,” manager Dave Roberts said. “It wasn’t a bad pitch, but when you give a guy like that — who has some power — multiple looks in the same quadrant, it decreases your margin.”
An inning later, Max Muncy bailed out his closer with a scorching line-drive home run of his own, handing the Dodgers a 2-1 win with his 11th walk-off of the year.
“I was looking for something out over the plate that I could get extended on,” said Muncy, who has homered in five straight games to increase his season total to 33. “He left something out there for me.”
Muncy made a familiar glide around the bases before being mobbed in the Dodgers’ latest home-plate pileup. He was covered in Gatorade and baby powder as he walked off the diamond.
But the rest of the night’s plot line – a late blown lead – is becoming uncomfortably familiar in this Dodgers season. They keep pulling out wins and stretched their NL West lead to a season-high 20 games. But they’ve yet to quell some of their greatest concerns, especially in the bullpen.
“You’ve got to continue to play it out, learn from things,” Roberts said of Jansen, who has a 3.70 ERA (worst in his career) and six blown saves (second worst in his career) but will remain the team’s closer.
“I still think Kenley is tracking in a positive direction, regardless of outcome.”
Buehler, who was coming off a flat five-inning outing in Miami last week, was robbed of a win after returning to form in Dodger Stadium – where he has a 2.13 ERA and nearly twice as many strikeouts (102) as hits allowed (58).
After working around baserunners in each of the opening three innings, Buehler retired 13 of the final 14 he faced. He struck out eight, surrendered just five hits and didn’t issue a walk.
“I thought Walker was really good,” Roberts said. “He was in sync all night long, changing speeds. The fastball really had the carry, the command all night long.”
Smith was a bright spot as well. After Toronto used an opener and left-handed reliever to keep the Dodgers off the board early, the rookie catcher smacked “bulk” pitcher Zack Godley’s first offering off the left-field foul pole.
“I’ll take them,” Smith said of the pole-hitting homer, which he watched nervously from the batter’s box before going on his latest trot around the bags. Of his dozen home runs this year – which have come in fewer than 100 at-bats – six have been in Dodger Stadium.
The confines of Chavez Ravine haven’t been as friendly to Jansen, though. Half of his blown saves have come at home. Though he only made one mistake Wednesday, it still gave Dodgers fans one more reason to worry.
“I know Kenley feels bad,” Roberts said. “He got some punch, some soft contact. Unfortunately, he couldn’t throw up a zero.”