There was no primal scream, no exuberant punching of the October sky. When Kenley Jansen completed his six-out save in the Dodgers’ 1-0 victory over the Chicago Cubs, he did what he did when closing out any other game, which was to casually embrace catcher Yasmani Grandal somewhere between the mound and home plate.
Except this wasn’t any other game.
Three days after the most physically taxing performance of his seven-year career, the All-Star closer displayed how much he has left in his prized right arm by pitching two perfect innings at Wrigley Field.
What Jansen revealed Sunday night was as important as the victory itself, which tied the best-of-seven National League Championship Series, one game to one.
Jansen is to the bullpen what Clayton Kershaw is to the rotation. He is what Adrian Gonzalez is to the lineup.
If his arm was exhausted to the point to where he couldn’t pitch like himself, the Dodgers’ march to the World Series would have effectively ended on his night.
“We look to him to close out games, we look to him to be the backbone of the bullpen, be that leader in the bullpen,” Grandal said. “He is that leader.”
Honeycutt was hopeful Jansen would recover well from recording seven outs and throwing a career-high 51 pitches in Game 5 of a NL division series against the Washington Nationals three days earlier. But there was no way he could be certain until Jansen scaled the mound.
Honeycutt was also the Dodgers pitching coach when a similar workload changed the trajectory of the team’s previous All-Star closer, Jonathon Broxton. In the middle of the 2010 season, Broxton threw a career-high 48 pitches against the New York Yankees. He was never the same.
And fatigue has already started to set in on this Dodgers bullpen. Left-hander Adam Liberatore, who was one of baseball’s top relievers over the first few months of the season, underwent an elbow operation this month. Standout setup man Joe Blanton uncharacteristically left a slider over the plate in the opening game of this series, resulting in a game-deciding grand slam by Miguel Montero.
Jansen’s previous career-high for pitches in a game was 41 and that was back in 2011. However, Honeycutt viewed Jansen as a potential exception to the rules of exhaustion.
“He really uses his body so well delivery-wise,” Honeycutt said. “He’s so dang strong, but he uses his legs to take a lot of the pressure off of his arm.”
He was right.
Jansen was dominant. He retired all six batters he faced. He was as economical as he was unhittable, throwing only 18 pitches, 16 of them strikes.
Three days earlier, Clayton Kershaw said he was inspired to volunteer his services in relief after watching Jansen selflessly enter the game against the Nationals in the seventh inning.
This time, it was Jansen who said he was motivated by Kershaw, who blanked the Cubs over seven innings.
With the Dodgers holding a 1-0 advantage, Jansen was prepared to enter the game in the bottom of the seventh inning, which started with Kershaw walking Anthony Rizzo on four pitches.
He saw Kershaw respond by striking out Ben Zobrist and forcing Addison Russell to fly out. He looked on as Kershaw turned away Manager Dave Roberts and remained in the game to retire Javier Baez.
“To see Kersh throw seven innings, put this team on his back, I wanted to go out there and finish it up,” he said.
Here’s the most amazing part of all of this: Jansen will be a free agent this coming winter.
The most lucrative contract ever signed by a closer is the four-year, $50-million deal Jonathan Papelbon signed with the Philadelphia Phillies after the 2011 season. Jansen’s next contract is expected to top that.
With every extra pitch Jansen delivers and every extra inning he throws, he is risking his health, and, in turn, that deal.
Honeycutt smiled when Jansen’s words were relayed to him.
“It’s really the motto of this team this whole year, the ability to not be selfish,” Honeycutt said.
From Blanton to Pedro Baez, Honeycutt started listing other relievers who placed the team’s well-being ahead of their own.
“That kind of rubs off on everybody else,” Honeycutt said.
And that could also take the Dodgers to their first World Series in 28 years.
Follow Dylan Hernandez on Twitter @dylanohernandez