The Dodgers were still leading when the first boos came in the top of the ninth, pointed toward a fan who tried to rush the field down the left-field line. The next handful of heckles was showered on home plate umpire Adrian Johnson, who didn’t call a borderline third strike.
But the loudest, most visceral, most acrimonious jeers at Dodger Stadium on Wednesday night were directed at one man — the same abrasive treatment he’s received a lot of late, as his career-worst season continues to find new lows.
Kenley Jansen blew his eighth save, setting a new dubious career high after allowing the Tampa Bay Rays to score twice in the ninth and erase a two-run Dodgers lead.
“I didn’t have it today,” Jansen said. “I sucked.”
The Dodgers’ eventual 8-7 loss wasn’t confirmed until two innings later. Austin Meadows belted a home run to right off reliever Josh Sborz in a two-run top of the 11th. A Dodgers comeback bid, fueled by a a run-scoring single by Edwin Rios, fell short in the bottom of the frame.
But whereas Sborz’s transgressions were met with apathy, Jansen’s latest misstep was confronted with anger. The Dodgers faithful in attendance Wednesday expressed frustration with the team’s beleaguered closer. As Jansen somberly disappeared from sight, a thinned-out crowd didn’t mask its displeasure.
Everything that happened in the first eight innings — Max Muncy’s two-run second-inning double, Joc Pederson’s game-tying RBI single in the sixth, Cody Bellinger’s insurance solo home run in the eighth, Dustin May’s two scoreless innings of relief — was forgotten when Jansen imploded in the ninth.
At the start of the inning, Jansen emerged from the bullpen slowly, pointing to the sky before jogging to the mound. The right-hander hadn’t needed much divine intervention previously this September. In his first six games of the month, he was three for three in save opportunities and had a 1.42 ERA.
On Wednesday, that progress seemed to come undone.
After getting ahead of Tommy Pham 1 and 2 with one out, Jansen missed with a high cut fastball before leaving another one in the zone. Pham singled. Jansen also got ahead of Matt Duffy 1 and 2 in the next at-bat but eventually missed with a full-count cutter for ball four.
He “didn’t have the command he did the last few times out,” Roberts said. “When you don’t, you get exposed.”
Ji-Man Choi fell behind Jansen too, taking a pair of cutters to dig an 0-and-2 hole. Jansen tried to retire Choi with the same pitch and appeared to catch the corner of the zone. But Johnson, the umpire, stayed still behind the plate. When Jansen threw another cutter, Choi drove it into left to score one run and move Duffy to third.
“I thought he got squeezed on the Choi pitch,” Roberts said. “Next pitch, base hit right there. It flipped the inning.”
Two pitches later, Travis d’Arnaud lifted a sacrifice fly to center that scored Duffy and tied it up. Chavez Ravine bellowed with exasperation. Fans resumed voicing their displeasure as Jansen walked back to the dugout at the end of the inning. Such hostile receptions have become commonplace for the 31-year-old closer this year.
Roberts still thinks, given Jansen’s recent success prior to Wednesday, the pitcher is “in a good place.” Asked what it would take for the team to consider a change at closer, Roberts responded: “I’m not really entertaining that thought right now.”
Jansen also remained sanguine about his season. He didn’t blame his performance on pitching in back-to-back nights and didn’t think Wednesday was an indication of any long-term issues. On Tuesday, he brushed off the idea of being booed when he spoke with reporters.
“They have high standards for me,” he said of Dodgers fans. “I do too. I know they’re gonna have my back no matter what.”
But in baseball, such trust is usually a two-way street. Loyalty is often cemented only by confidence. And in Jansen, Dodgers fans are running out of faith.
“You can’t control the outcome,” Jansen said. “Yes, the command wasn’t [as good as] the last three games it was. But you can’t let this one frustrate you.”