June 20, 2016
The route Kenley Jansen traveled from the bullpen door to the mound at Dodger Stadium in Monday’s 4-1 victory over Washington lasted 69 steps. He had trekked far longer to reach this moment, from a boyhood in Curacao to a rudderless stint as a catcher in the Dodgers’ minor league system to seven seasons of excellence in the big league bullpen.
Once he reached the mound, Jansen plucked a fresh baseball and placed it in his mitt. Then he proceeded to do what he has done since he debuted in 2010. He fired cut fastballs and collected outs. The last three produced his 162nd save as a Dodger, which allowed him to surpass Eric Gagne for the franchise record.
“Being in Dodger history, that’s awesome,” Jansen said. “I’m honored to just be a part of the history now. It’s a great day.”
The rest of the Dodgers’ relievers greeted Jansen with hugs after the game. Gagne called to congratulate him. Gagne is scheduled to visit the ballpark Tuesday for a pregame ceremony to honor Jansen’s achievement. Adrian Gonzalez corralled the baseball used for the final out.
“How much do you think it will go for on the open market?” Gonzalez asked reporters surrounding Jansen’s locker.
Whatever the theoretical sum, Jansen will surely dwarf it with his payday as a free agent this winter. The Dodgers can consider that reality a few months from now. Until then, the team can appreciate its towering closer.
Since blowing a save in San Francisco on June 11, he has retired 15 of the 16 batters he’s faced, with 10 strikeouts. He has converted the fury he felt after the letdown into fuel. “That’s still in the back of my mind,” Jansen said.
The milestone for Jansen delivered a capstone to a fortifying evening for the Dodgers (39-33), who won their fourth game in a row. They bested the Nationals, the class of the National League East, to maintain the momentum created by a series victory last weekend over Milwaukee.
“We’re hitting our stride a little bit,” Manager Dave Roberts said.
Working in unforgiving heat, Clayton Kershaw (11-1, 1.57 earned-run average) logged seven innings of one-run baseball. He scattered six hits, three of them during Washington’s run-scoring rally in the seventh. Kershaw struck out eight and, as usual, walked none.
Justin Turner length- ened a string of scorching hitting with a solo homer and a run-scoring single. Joc Pederson provided his 13th home run of the season. Chase Utley chipped in with an RBI single after Kershaw exited the stage.
The Dodgers caught a break before the game even began. Nationals star Stephen Strasburg scotched the marquee pitching match- up when he experienced a back strain. Washington replaced him with veteran swingman Yusmeiro Petit.
The stadium broiled even as the sun set. A native Texan, Kershaw appeared impervious to the elements. As is his custom, he swaddled himself in a hooded sweatshirt inside the clubhouse. After he loosened up in the bullpen, he wore a warmup jacket despite the 96-degree heat.
“This is L.A.,” Kershaw said. “It’s not hot here. Texas is hot.”
In a strange twist, the first National to record a hit Monday was Petit. He chopped a single up the middle with two outs in the third. By that point, Kershaw had already struck out four of Petit’s teammates. Heading into the seventh inning, he had struck out reigning NL most valuable player Bryce Harper three times and allowed only one National to reach second base.
The stress heightened in the seventh. Daniel Murphy, who entered the night leading the NL with a .358 batting average, greeted Kershaw with a leadoff single. Two batters later, catcher Wilson Ramos put runners at the corners with another single.
The Dodgers bullpen stirred to life for the first time. Joe Blanton was warming up when third baseman Anthony Rendon chipped a grounder to the right side of the infield. A defensive shift pulled Utley too far from the ball’s path, and a run scored on the single.
The drama increased when shortstop Danny Espinosa scalded a fastball into left field. Howie Kendrick dived to catch it.
“That was probably the difference in the game right there,” Kershaw said.
The runners advanced into scoring position when Kershaw bounced a slider past catcher Yasmani Gran- dal. Kershaw recovered to induce a fly out by former Dodger Chris Heisey to leave both Nationals stranded.
Blanton handled the eighth. Then Jansen batted aside the Nationals for the final three outs. He placed himself atop the franchise leaderboard on a softly struck grounder by Rendon.
“We’ve been spoiled,” Kershaw said. “It just feels like when the ninth inning rolls around, we have a win. You can’t take that for granted. I’m happy for him. He’s had a great career here so far, and hopefully there’s a lot more to come.”