The venue was brand new, but Clayton Kershaw and the Dodgers had been there before.
Tasked with holding a one-run lead, the Dodgers’ bullpen ultimately prevailed in Game 2 of the National League Division Series on Wednesday. It was a pleasant reversal of history for Kershaw, who twice was removed from a playoff game with the lead in hand, only to see the bullpen squander it in a loss. It was also an adventure.
When Joe Kelly retired Eric Hosmer on a routine groundout in the bottom of the ninth inning, the Dodgers could finally exhale, having beaten the Padres 6-5 to take a 2-0 lead in the best-of-five series. The meandering pathway to the final nine outs might have cost Dave Roberts a few gray hairs – and cost Kenley Jansen his job as the team’s closer.
Kershaw was outstanding for five innings as the Dodgers built a 4-1 lead. He struck out six without walking a batter on an efficient 67 pitches. Then in the sixth inning, the Padres made it interesting.
Manny Machado and Hosmer began the inning with back-to-back home runs, narrowing the Dodgers’ lead to 4-3. It was the third time Kershaw had allowed consecutive home runs in a postseason game, something he’s only done once in a regular-season game.
Kershaw came back to retire Tommy Pham, Wil Myers and Jake Cronenworth in order. Roberts then called on Blake Treinen to begin the seventh inning, putting the game in the hands of a bullpen that led the NL in wins (26-11) and earned-run average (2.74).
It wasn’t always pretty.
Treinen got two quick outs, then hit Trent Grisham with a pitch. Graterol jogged in to face Fernando Tatís Jr., then committed a balk to send Grisham to second base. When Tatís hit a fly ball to deep center field, only a leaping catch by Cody Bellinger prevented the ball from landing over the fence for a home run. The Dodgers’ lead was safe.
A pair of insurance runs in the bottom of the seventh gave the Dodgers a 6-3 lead. Graterol pitched a 1-2-3 eighth inning. Enter Jansen, the franchise’s all-time saves leader, who will enter the final year of his $80 million contract next season.
The game got interesting in a hurry.
Jansen struck out Myers, then allowed a single to Jake Cronenworth and a double to pinch hitter Mitch Moreland. That brought the Padres within 6-4.
Grisham, a left-handed hitter, was up next. The Dodgers have three left-handed pitchers on their NLDS roster: Jake McGee, Victor Gonzalez and Adam Kolarek. But Roberts stuck with Jansen, and right-hander Joe Kelly began warming up in the bullpen.
When Grisham laced a 3-and-2 cutter over the middle of the plate for a single, Hosmer scored from second base. The Dodgers led 6-5, and Roberts decided he’d seen enough from Jansen.
“It was a lot for him,” Roberts said. “Thirty pitches to get two outs. I know he’s disappointed as well.”
Jansen recorded the save in Game 1 of the Dodgers’ wild-card round win over the Milwaukee Brewers and recorded the final two outs of the Dodgers’ 5-1 win over the Padres a day earlier. Yet he had also seen the velocity on his cutter – his signature pitch – dip below 90 mph, and at times the results followed. One cutter on Wednesday registered 87 mph according to MLB’s Statcast system.
Asked specifically about the closer’s job Wednesday, Roberts said, “I’ll keep thinking through it.”
After Jansen allowed eight runs over back-to-back outings in September, Roberts alternated save situations among Jansen, Blake Treinen, Adam Kolarek and Graterol.
But it was Kelly who was entrusted to get the final out Wednesday. If this game served as his audition for the closer’s job, it was hardly an easy pass.
Kelly walked Tatis and Machado to load the bases, before finally retiring Hosmer on a ground ball to second baseman Kiké Hernandez.
“You’ve got to give credit to Tatís and Machado,” Roberts said. “They spoil some good pitches. They took some good pitches and found a way to earn walks. Fortunately, Joe kept competing and made a pitch to Hosmer to get him to ground out.”
Said Kershaw, at last able to smile after catching a rare October break: “Never a doubt.”
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