LOS ANGELES -- As noted in 3 up, 3 down, the manner in which closer Kenley Jansen's ninth inning unraveled was, to say the least, bizarre. However, there's “bizarre” and there's “baseball as presented by David Lynch.”
To recap, Jansen entered the game looking to preserve a 6-5 lead, but things turned immediately dicey. Back-to-back singles to left field were surrendered to Yonder Alonso and Will Venable, the former replaced on the bags by speedy pinch-runner Everth Cabrera and the latter eventually stealing second with no attempt from catcher A.J. Ellis. Barely having worked up a sweat, Jansen already looked defeated.
But then came the darnedest stretch. Steeped in seriously hot water, Jansen suddenly transformed into a cool cucumber. An epic battle with Cameron Maybin, featuring what seemed roughly 6,274 foul balls, ended with a strike out. Then pinch-hitter Mark Kotsay popped up to second baseman Mark Ellis. And representing the final out, Alexi Amarista was down a pair of strikes. Improbably, Jansen appeared poised to pull one mother of a rabbit out of his cap.
Apparently, he forgot to say “Abracadabra.”
Upon feeling his shoe's bottom caked in dirt, Jansen wriggled his foot to clear his spikes, but failed to call time out. Sensing a do-or-die opportunity, Cabrera caught Jansen off guard and darted toward the plate. Startled, Jansen made a bad throw to A.J. Ellis, then became even more of a deer in the headlights after plate umpire Greg Gibson initially called Cabrera out. Realizing Ellis didn’t have the ball, Gibson signaled the play safe, and watched as Venable continued running from second. Jansen was noticeably late to cover the plate and the Padres had a 7-6 lead.
Again, not your run-of-the-mill collapse.
“I've been around baseball for how many years now,” manager Don Mattingly said after the loss. “That's the first time I've ever seen that, where you've got two strikes, the game's on the line and the guy takes off. So it's not like it happens every day and you sit there and say, 'I've seen that before. I've got to pay attention to that.' ”
Unfortunately, there's a reason “expect the unexpected” is a phrase with staying power and for Jansen and the Dodgers, the closer's lapse of concentration, even for a split second proved deadly in a tight contest.
“The momentum was in my direction and everything,” Jansen said. “It was just right there. I got dirt stuck in my shoes. I can't throw like that, obviously, with dirt stuck in my shoes. I just went to take it off and forgot about calling timeout.
“It just happened. One mistake. And I'm just not making excuses, because I should have known better to call timeout up there.”
He definitely should have, and Mattingly made no bones about the undotted “I's” and uncrossed “T's” on the part of his pitcher. It's Jansen's job to be aware of the situation, and whether in terms of Cabrera, the cleats or preventing the seventh run, his effort didn't cut the mustard.
“The first one, it gets you caught off guard, you throw it away,” said Mattingly of the Padres' sixth run. “It's almost like a double mistake by not covering home. But it is bizarre. It's one of those plays that happens so fast, you don't even think about the second guy. But you do obviously gotta cover home.”
However, the manager also declined from coming down too hard on closer, whose youth and willingness to battle was stressed. Instead, Mattingly focused on a learning opportunity placed in front of the entire team, and in particular, Jansen.
“It's a good lesson for him,” Mattingly said. “It's just one of those things, awareness of what's going on in the game. Who's on the bases. With [Cabrera], it's like having Dee Gordon at third. He's gonna try to rattle you. Coming down the line, they can do just about anything.
“It's a situation we learn from. It happens now and you don't want it to happen ever. It could have happened to anybody. I don't really think Kenley was being nonchalant, not paying attention. He's just probably cleaning his spikes and regrouping and thinking about getting a hitter out.”
That attitude was shared by Jansen, who may have been annoyed by his mistake, but he didn't appear shaken. Rather, the pitcher spoke in decidedly “whatever doesn't kill me makes me stronger” terms.
“This only can make me better,” Jansen said. “I'm going to be a better closer from now on. All this happening, this gives me more experience. And now I know. I'd rather this happen right now and not in September or October. What could I do?
“You gotta look forward for tomorrow and go get them again tomorrow. Go get three outs again and save the game.”