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Column: Dodgers’ best relievers finally falter in spectacular fashion

Los Angeles Dodgers manager Dave Roberts and pitcher Kenley Jansen talk about the Game 2 loss to the Houston Astros.

The game was won. By extension, the series was too.

Only for the unthinkable to happen.

The indestructible machine broke down. The everlasting force unraveled. The Dodgers bullpen blew a lead.

“I’m just human,” Kenley Jansen said. “I’m not a machine.”

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He’s right.

The 11-inning, 7-6 defeat to the Houston Astros was a function of the Dodgers demanding too much of their bullpen too many times. Whoever is in your bullpen, however dominant they are, ask your relievers to cover four or five innings on a regular basis and what happened to the Dodgers on Wednesday night is bound to happen.

This was the same bullpen that pitched 112/3 innings in a three-game sweep of the Arizona Diamondbacks in a National League division series. This was the same bullpen that covered 172/3 innings in five games against the Chicago Cubs in the Championship Series.

The group’s astounding performance masked the difficulty of the assigned task on virtually every night. Only three times in their previous nine games did the relievers have to pitch fewer than three innings.

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The Dodgers are comfortable with that kind of game. Manager Dave Roberts is comfortable with that kind of game.

This was how the Dodgers managed their pitchers last postseason. And this is how they managed their pitchers this postseason, with even greater success. The relievers extended their scoreless streak to 28 innings on this night.

If the trademark of Dodgers baseball was a workhorse starting pitcher, it’s now an assembly line of relievers emerging from bullpen to retire a couple batters before handing over the responsibility to the next man.

“It was just one of those games that just ran out of outs,” Roberts said.

The velocity of every pitch thrown at Dodger Stadium is shown on the video scoreboard above the right-field pavilion, with a virtual flame appearing behind Nos. 95 and higher. The middle of the hexagonal display was constantly ablaze Wednesday night. Justin Verlander was pitching for the Astros.

With his fastball touching 98 mph, Verlander had a perfect game through three innings and a no-hitter through four, at which point the Astros were ahead 1-0.

The Dodgers had no illusions of Rich Hill matching Verlander inning for inning or pitch for pitch. But they believed they could match Verlander’s individual brilliance with numbers.

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So with the top of the Astros order due up in the fifth inning, Roberts didn’t hesitate to replace Hill. The Astros have five consecutive right-handed hitters coming up. Roberts turned to right-hander Kenta Maeda.

And the plan worked, at least temporarily.

The Dodgers leveled the score 1-1 on a homer by Joc Pederson in the fifth inning. Maeda pitched 11/3 scoreless innings. Left-hander Tony Watson entered the game in the sixth and preserved the stalemate by forcing Brian McCann to ground into an inning-ending double play.

The Dodgers went ahead for the first time in the bottom half of the inning on a two-run homer by Corey Seager. The Dodgers had the Astros where they wanted.

The game started to look like many of the Dodgers’ games this month, with Roberts choosing one favorable matchup after another.

Everything went according to plan through seven innings.

Roberts said he considered calling on Jansen at that point, but he went back to Brandon Morrow, who pitched the seventh inning. Morrow’s entry into the game was expedited by Ross Stripling’s inability to record an out.

Morrow gave up a double to Alex Bregman.

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“I just felt Bregman had a really good at-bat against Kenley last night,” Roberts said. “I felt if Brandon can get Bregman, then I was going to go to Kenley then.”

Jansen entered the game to attempt a six-out save with a man on second base instead. Jansen said he didn’t mind. He pitched more than an inning 14 times in the regular season.

Bregman scored later in the inning on a single to center field by Carlos Correa. The Dodgers’ advantage was down to 3-2.

In the ninth inning, Jansen served up a leadoff homer to Marwin Gonzalez. The game was headed for extra innings. Jansen intended to throw the cutter up and in.

“It was flat, down the middle,” he said.

This is where the game turned scary for the Dodgers. Roberts had already deployed his most dependable relievers. He was forced to put the game in the hands of pitchers he wanted to use in low-leverage situations.

Josh Fields gave up consecutive homers to Jose Altuve and Correa in the 10th inning.

The Dodgers tied the score, only to have to call on Brandon McCarthy to pitch the 11th. McCarthy hadn’t pitched in the postseason. A starting pitcher, McCarthy was added to the roster for this round with this situation in mind. But his lack of activity showed and he served up a two-run homer to George Springer.

Jansen said he wouldn’t let the outcome affect him in the future. He said his teammates wouldn’t be affected, either.

“I’ll be back, ready for Game 3,” he said.

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The Los Angeles Dodgers in the 2017 World Series
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dylan.hernandez@latimes.com

Follow Dylan Hernandez on Twitter @dylanohernandez

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