LOS ANGELES--The closer climbed the stairs back to the diamond, back for a second inning against the Houston Astros, back to face an opponent who had vanquished him twice in five games. On the brink of elimination, in the sixth game of the World Series, Kenley Jansen refused to relinquish the baseball. And he refused to wilt against Houston, slamming shut the door in a 3-1 victory before 54,128 fans at Dodger Stadium on Tuesday.
The stands will teem with humanity once more on Wednesday, when Game 7 arrives at this ballpark for the first time since the doors were opening in 1962. Could you expect any less? Could you ask for any more? The baseball gods may not answer letters, but they do allow dreams to flourish.
The Dodgers kept theirs alive on Tuesday, 48 hours after enduring an excruciating defeat in Game 5, by playing like the baseball team who ran away with the National League West and bulldozed all the other contenders for the pennant. Humbled for five innings, the offense woke up in time. Chris Taylor helped conquer Astros ace Justin Verlander with a score-tying double in the sixth. Corey Seager then gave the Dodgers the lead with a sacrifice fly. Joc Pederson unleashed his third homer of the series in the seventh.
The offense provided enough cushion to keep the Dodgers alive. Rich Hill allowed one run before exiting with two outs in the fifth. One defeat away from ushering in the offseason, the Dodgers relied upon the strategy that propelled them this far -- and the strategy that backfired earlier in this series. At the end of the line was Jansen, who gobbled up six outs without incident.
The three losses to Houston created wounds that lasted beyond the individual game. A blown save by Jansen in Game 2 punctured the bullpen's veneer of invincibility. A five-out performance by Yu Darvish in Game 3 exposed the relievers to heavy usage. The relievers combusted in Game 5, after Clayton Kershaw failed to uphold seven runs of support.
Along the way, manager Dave Roberts weathered slings and arrows for his in-game decision-making. He followed a process that guided the organization to 104 victories during the regular season, the most since the franchise left Brooklyn, and to breezy series victories to reach the World Series for the first time since 1988. Once there, the Dodgers met an opponent capable of dismantling any strategy. The buttons Roberts pushed did not produce the familiar results.
Roberts prides himself on being a proactive manager. He aims to anticipate when crises will arise, rather than intercede after the crisis has become apparent. This strategy leaves him open to criticism, he acknowledges. General manager Farhan Zaidi defended Roberts as the players took batting practice on Tuesday afternoon, stressing Roberts "has done a great job this series."
"We know our team better than anybody," Zaidi said. "Doc knows his players better than anybody. We talk about general strategies all the time. He's also watching how the game's unfolding, and makes decisions on the fly, which we have total confidence in. We feel good about the process.
"From a strategic standpoint, he's proved himself to be one of the best in baseball. We have complete faith in him."
The temperature at first pitch was 67 degrees, 36 degrees cooler than the record high for Game 1. The Dodgers hoped the more reasonable climate would dampen the Astros offense. They could not rely on the weather alone. Before the game, Roberts stressed his hope that Hill would "go as hard as he can go for as long as he can go."