Kenley Jansen’s seventh blown save in 34 chances this season began Wednesday at Petco Park with a measly 229-foot flyball to shallow left field. A conventional defense would have rendered it a routine flyout.
But the Dodgers had positioned left fielder Chris Taylor toward the gap against the left-handed hitting Francisco Mejia, forcing him to make a long sprint and the ball bounced in front of his dive. So Mejia raced to second base, narrowly beating Taylor’s throw for a leadoff double in the ninth inning for the San Diego Padres.
Mejia was at third base after advancing on a flyout when Jansen fired a pitch over catcher Russell Martin’s head. The ball bounced off the backstop and right to Martin as Mejia darted home, but Martin muffed the ricochet and Mejia slid home safely to tie the score.
Jansen retired the next two hitters but the damage was done. He slowly walked to the Dodgers’ dugout and took a seat after tying his career high for blown saves. Cameras caught him in a blank stare straight ahead. His face spelled anger.
“In that situation,” Martin said, “it’s a little bit of bad luck.”
Moments later, his teammates answered, capitalizing on Padres shortstop Luis Urias’ throwing error with two outs to score two runs off All-Star closer Kirby Yates en route to a 6-4 win and dropping the magic number to clinch their seventh straight National League West title to nine.
The Dodgers’ unlikely rally began when Enrique Hernandez worked a two-out walk against Yates. Hernandez, knowing Mejia hurt his side sliding into second base for his double, immediately decided he would run on Yates’ first move. It worked and he stole second base before Russell Martin slammed a 104-mph one-hopper to Urias.
The shortstop fieldedit smoothly, eliciting gasps from the crowd, but his throw sailed over the first baseman and Hernandez raced around to score the go-ahead run. Two batters later, A.J. Pollock lined an RBI single to supply extra cushion for Casey Sadler, who logged a scoreless inning for his first career save.
Was it not for a perfectly placed fly ball, Jansen probably would’ve notched the save himself. Instead, he got the win. The Padres didn’t hit a ball particularly hard off Jansen — Urias’ 89-mph flyout to advance Mejia was the hardest in play — but the result remained dampening. It was more disappointment and another letdown for the once-untouchable closer, further highlighting a potential vulnerability for the National League favorites come October.
“He’s throwing the ball well,” Dodgers manager Dave Roberts said. “He really is. It’s a play that [Taylor] gave it everything he had and if you make that play then it’s a completely different inning. So I still think the ball is coming out really well.”
A different kind of scare surfaced for the Dodgers in the fifth inning. The sound resembled ball meeting lumber, and that would’ve been the optimal outcome for the Dodgers. But left-hander Matt Strahm’s 94-mph fastball did not bounce off Max Muncy’s bat. It plunked Muncy on the right wrist. Suddenly, a sense of dread pervaded the visitors’ dugout.
Muncy grimaced on his walk to first base. Roberts and trainer Yosuke Nakajima joined him. After a brief conversation, Muncy was removed from the game and the Dodgers were left wondering if one of their most important players was headed for an extended absence five weeks before the games start mattering again for them.
Two innings later, the Dodgers announced Muncy left the game with a “right wrist contusion.” After the game, Muncy said he underwent a scan, which didn’t show any structural damage, but he won’t undergo X-rays until Thursday. Even if nothing is fractured, Muncy said he expects “it’s still going to be a timetable to return.” It was the sixth time Muncy was hit by a pitch this season. Three have come against the Padres, including two in the previous three days.
An All-Star for the first time this season, Muncy is second on the Dodgers in home runs (33), runs batted in (87), and on-base-plus-slugging percentage (.900). His 4.3 FanGraphs WAR entering Wednesday was tied for 21st in the majors. He is an integral member of the National League’s highest-scoring offense and he kind of hitter the Dodgers covet — a slugger with elite plate discipline.
The Dodgers were leading 3-2 when Muncy exited. The Padres elected to have right-handed reliever Trey Wingenter open the game before using another pitcher to log multiple innings. The plan backfired. Wingenter recorded a perfect first inning, but found trouble in the second. Cody Bellinger walked and Taylor singled before Corey Seager grounded out to score Bellinger.
Hernandez walked to prompt Wingenter’s departure. Right-hander Luis Perdomo entered and walked Russell Martin to bring up Kenta Maeda, one of the National League’s most productive hitting pitchers this season, with the bases loaded. Maeda capitalized, lining a two-run single to right field to give the Dodgers the lead.