“I don’t see how you wouldn’t expect that,” said Brandon Morrow, an equally worn-out Dodgers reliever who has appeared in 12 postseason games this month, including all five in the World Series. “This is my first time in the postseason and it’s a grind. It’s not just the amount of games you play, but it’s the emotional investment, the incredible focus that everyone has. It wears on you mentally, and that kind of mental focus wears on you physically.”
All of this happened last year, too. By the time the Chicago Cubs and the Cleveland Indians reached Game 7 of the World Series, Cubs closer Aroldis Chapman had lost velocity on his fastball and Cleveland’s hitters were able to get to him and nearly steal the game. The normally unhittable Andrew Miller also lost some of his dominance for the Indians late in that series, particularly in Game 7.
Morrow said Jansen and the rest of the Dodgers pitchers, and virtually all their counterparts on the Astros, are surely tired at this point. Still, Jansen maintained that his issue was more about an inability to command his pitches in key moments.
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“I was missing,” he said. “I don’t think it was fatigue.”
The velocity on Jansen’s fastball, which was slightly lower than normal in Game 2 of the World Series, when he suffered his blown save, was back up to 94 miles per hour in Game 5. But at what cost?
Some pitching coaches contend that when pitchers are tired, they sometimes try to throw harder — whether consciously or not — in order to make up for lost power. That extra grunt of determination and strength can sometimes cause the pitcher to lose mechanical precision in his delivery. Pitches thus miss their target.
Madison Bumgarner, who pitched five scoreless innings of relief for the San Francisco Giants in Game 7 of the 2014 World Series, went through his windups that night looking as if he were playing a casual game of catch on a back field in spring training, so relaxed and composed was his delivery. He seemed to understand that the last thing he needed to do at that moment was overcompensate.
As for Jansen, he has not been a complete mess in the Series. But he has not performed in the manner his team is accustomed to seeing.
Jansen was fine in Game 1 of the Series. Then, in Game 2, he was asked to get the final six outs, something he had done three times previously in this postseason.
In the eighth inning, he gave up a run-scoring single to Carlos Correa that brought Houston to within a run, and in the ninth he blew the save when Marwin Gonzalez homered. Afterward, Jansen said that his signature cut fastball had been flat, which gave the Astros an opening.
In Game 4, asked to protect a five-run lead, Jansen gave up a home run to Alex Bregman. The Dodgers won, but it gave Bregman another look at Jansen’s pitches ahead of a key showdown the next night.
In Game 5, Jansen pitched a scoreless ninth to preserve a 12-12 tie, giving up a two-out double to Yuli Gurriel before escaping. But in the 10th, things fell apart. With two outs he hit Brian McCann with a pitch and walked George Springer before Bregman’s single allowed pinch-runner Derek Fisher to score the winning run.
Jansen and the rest of the pitchers on both teams got some much-needed rest on Monday. But Jansen will almost certainly get the ball again in Game 6 on Tuesday night if he’s needed in the late innings.
“They’re celebrating right now,” a defiant Jansen said after Game 5. “But guess what? They’ve still got to beat us one more time.’’