The ingredients for a playoff atmosphere were all there in the ninth inning Saturday afternoon at Dodger Stadium. A one-run difference between historic clubs with the two best records in baseball. A famed closer, fighting for the confidence of everyone in the building, on the ropes. A raucous capacity crowd at one of the sport’s classic venues riding with every pitch and play and decision.
And when the final out was secured, it was the Dodgers, the beneficiaries of a controversial, game-changing call, escaping with a 2-1 win over the New York Yankees in Part 2 of a possible World Series preview.
“I definitely don’t think that was stressful,” Dodgers manager Dave Roberts said. “That was fun.”
The eventful ninth inning began with Kenley Jansen emerging from the Dodgers’ bullpen for his first appearance since blowing a save against the Toronto Blue Jays on Wednesday. His outing started with a gift of an out. The right-hander fell behind 3-and-1 against Didi Gregorius. The Dodgers (86-45) shifted third baseman Justin Turner to the second-base side of the infield, leaving a huge hole on the left side. Gregorius tried to bunt the pitch to third, but the ball rolled foul.
“If they’re going to give it to me and I’m trying to get on base for the team,” Gregorius said, “I don’t think it’s a bad idea.”
The Dodgers’ infield remained shifted for Jansen’s full-count pitch. Gregorius said he had “no hesitation at all” about bunting again, but his two-strike tapper rolled foul again, and he struck out.
“I had no issue with it,” Yankees manager Aaron Boone said. “I would never tell someone in that spot [to bunt], but I thought it was a good play. He almost had a leadoff double. Didi felt like he could execute it. He was really close to executing it, and he was confident in his ability to do it.”
Gleyber Torres singled to right, and Brett Gardner reached on an infield single. Gio Urshela hit a slow roller to Turner, who fired to second, where Gardner upended second baseman Max Muncy with a hard but clean slide. The initial out call at second was eventually overturned by a replay review.
While Muncy was on the ground with the ball in apparent pain, Torres broke for home, easily scoring what appeared to be the tying run. But home-plate umpire Gabe Morales ruled that Jansen had called time out before Torres broke for home. Torres was sent back to third. Boone said he saw the replay after the game and was certain Jansen did not signal in time.
“I don’t know what’s wrong with the umpires today,” Torres said. “We can’t control that.”
The Yankees (84-47) probably won’t have grounds to protest because it was a judgment call, “but we’ll certainly inquire with everyone and try to get a good explanation,” Boone said.
Instead of tying the game, the Yankees had the bases loaded with one out for Mike Tauchman. Jansen swiftly shut the door, striking Tauchman out on three pitches and Gary Sanchez on four pitches to earn his 27th save. Jansen’s velocity was higher than in recent games. His cutter sat between 94 mph and 95 mph, while touching 96 and delivering movement reminiscent of vintage Jansen.
“Ninth innings are stressful enough as they are and you add that in there, it was like ‘Whooo,’ ” Muncy said. “But Kenley persevered. He found a way to get through it. And that last batter, he looked really, really good.”
For the second straight day, a vibrant, October-like environment developed at Dodger Stadium. The Yankees had taken the first meeting between championship contenders Friday, treating the Dodgers like the Dodgers have treated many opponents this season in a 10-2 drubbing. Saturday’s game proved more competitive between the teams with the best records in the majors.
The starting pitching matchup was one between hurlers at the opposite ends of their careers. Tony Gonsolin is a 25-year-old rookie who grew up idolizing Sabathia and the Yankees growing up in Northern California. Saturday was his fourth career start. The Dodgers are confident he will become a mainstay on their pitching staff for years to come.
Sabathia’s best years are behind him and, after this one, he doesn’t have any left. The 39-year-old left-hander already announced he will retire after this season, his 19th in the majors. As a rookie in 2001 with the Cleveland Indians, Sabathia was teammates with Roberts.
Sabathia, however, has taken a step back in his last hurrah. He entered Saturday’s outing, perhaps his final in a National League ballpark, with a 5.01 earned-run average and baseball’s highest home run rate. His homer problem surfaced in the third inning when Justin Turner lofted a flyball just over the left-field wall for a two-run home run. It was Turner’s 23rd this season. Sabathia has given up 26.
Those were the only runs Sabathia surrendered on five hits and a walk in his four innings. He struck out seven and lined out on a 97-mph fastball to right field in possibly his final career plate appearance.
Gonsolin outpitched his veteran counterpart. He held the Yankees hitless through three innings, until Aaron Judge smashed a 3-and-2 fastball to the batter’s eye in center field to lead off the fourth. It was Judge’s second home run in as many days. Gonsolin exited after throwing 76 pitches with the Dodgers leading 2-1, shifting the game’s balance to the scrutinized bullpen.
Joe Kelly was summoned first and Pedro Baez followed. They combined to log three scoreless innings before the ball was given to Jansen. It is the succession the Dodgers envision and the result they need in October.
“You just got to trust yourself in that situation and compete,” Jansen said. “And that’s what I did. I don’t lose confidence in myself.”
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Source: Baseball Reference