All-Star closer Kenley Jansen made his celebrated return to a reeling bullpen on Monday night, but his presence only compounded the Los Angeles Dodgers' persistent problem.
Jansen, who had spent the previous 11 days recovering from an irregular heartbeat, surrendered a home run to each of the first two St. Louis Cardinals batters he faced inJedd Gyorko and Matt Carpenter. It broke a ninth-inning tie, led to a 5-3 loss and made Jansen the seventh different Dodgers reliever to be tagged with a loss in the past 10 games.
"Everything was flat," Jansen said, his Dodgers now 2 games back in the National League West while in fifth place in the wild-card standings. "As I faced hitters, it started to get better. But the first two hitters, I wasn't in my comfort zone. I was battling with myself."
Monday's top of the ninth marked only the second time that Jansen had surrendered multiple home runs in the same game, and the first time since May 2013. He brought in the 20th and 21st runs allowed by the Dodgers' bullpen since Aug. 9, the day a recurrence of atrial fibrillation forced Jansen to the disabled list.
It also spoiled what would have been that department's most encouraging night in weeks.
Pedro Baez, maligned around these parts for the better part of the past two years, inherited a bases-loaded, no-out situation in the fifth, allowed only one run to score, then pitched a clean sixth inning. Kenta Maeda, transitioning from starting pitcher to high-leverage reliever, retired all six of his batters in the seventh and eighth, striking out four to preserve what at that point was a 3-3 tie.
The Dodgers threatened to take the lead in the bottom of the eighth, with Yasiel Puig on third base and only one out. But Justin Turner struck out and Cody Bellinger lined out, encapsulating a night when the Dodgers stranded 14 baserunners.
The game then evaporated in the hands of Jansen, the typically reliable right-hander who believes he might have been a little too "amped up to be back."
Dodgers manager Dave Roberts simply blamed a "lack of execution," saying that the velocity was there and that Jansen had knocked some of the rust off by throwing to hitters twice last week. Roberts continued to express confidence in the back end of his bullpen.
"It's not lip service," Roberts said. "Kenley is the best in the game. He's the best in the game. We have a lot of good arms, I feel, when you're talking about the sixth, seventh, eighth inning. I love our guys. I really do. They're going to continue to get opportunities, we're going to continue to get leads and now it's just up to us to just finish them."
Jansen was activated after his cardiologist gave him the green light earlier on Monday. Jansen no longer needs blood thinners, but he will continue to take his heart medication and monitor his EKG levels. Another offseason surgery, six years after a cardiac ablation, seems likely.
But Jansen will keep his focus on baseball for the next six weeks, potentially longer.
"I'm not thinking about my heart," Jansen said before the game. "I'm not. You have no control over your heart, so if it goes, it goes."
In the short time that Jansen was out, his teammates in the bullpen blew leads or broke ties eight times in the final three innings. Losses were handed to Baez, Maeda, Zac Rosscup, Dylan Floro, Scott Alexander, Caleb Ferguson and JT Chargois, who exited Monday's game early with a neck injury.
Then came Jansen, the one who was supposed to make everything right.
"Very deflating," Dodgers infielder Max Muncy said of suffering so many losses in the late innings. "But it's baseball. It's going to happen."
Jansen took some solace in the way Monday's outing ended. He struck out Paul DeJong looking for the second out, then, after a single by Marcell Ozuna, came back to strike outTyler O'Neillswinging. Jansen noticed the life on his cutter return. It restored his hope.
"I finally settled in," Jansen said. "That's a good thing."
Gyorko, Carpenter hit back-to-back homers off Jansen
In his first game back after a stint on the DL for an irregular heartbeat, Kenley Jansen surrenders home runs to Jedd Gyorko and Matt Carpenter.