LOS ANGELES — The 2017 Dodgers are an augmented, deeper version of the 2016 team that lost to the Cubs in the NLCS in six games. This year, they are up 2-0 in the rematch thanks in large part to the three key free agents they retained during the offseason.
Rich Hill started Game 2, and was highly effective, striking out eight in his five innings. Kenley Jansen and Justin Turner ended it, Jansen on the mound and Turner at the plate, the latter delivering the second walk-off home run in Dodgers franchise history.
Hill was first to re-sign with the Dodgers, coming back on a three-year, $48 million deal signed at the winter meetings in early December. Turner and Jansen agreed about a week later, both signing the Dodgers’ pre-printed $16 million-per-year contracts (they got a bulk rate at the office supply store, I’m assuming) — Turner for four years and Jansen for five.
After Sunday’s 4-1 win over the Cubs, both Jansen and Turner were together in the interview room behind the third base dugout at Dodger Stadium, just as they were nine months ago, when they jointly held a press conference to announce their new contracts.
“The fact that we see how close we got, and we know it’s unfinished business, and we have that goal,” Jansen said. “We’ve been talking about it in January. When we got to Spring Training we had that mindset, and we’ve been talking about it the whole year.”
But Turner and Jansen still hadn’t officially made their decisions to come back to the Dodgers before Jansen got married, also in December.
“It started that night at my wedding. My wedding night, the day that me and J.T. were getting a haircut, we were talking about it. From there we just made a decision,” Jansen said. “We know what we’ve got here, and we know the group of guys that we have here.”
That’s the start of a great novel, isn’t it?
Jansen is the best closer in Dodgers history, arguably the best in baseball at the moment — let’s say, third at the absolute worse — coming off his finest season, with a 1.32 ERA and 1.31 FIP, with 109 strikeouts and only seven walks.
He has pitched every game in the playoffs so far for the Dodgers — asked if he could pitch every game of the postseason if asked, Jansen said, “I mean, that was the plan” — allowing only an unearned run in six innings, with 10 strikeouts.
Jansen was energized by his electric performance in last year’s postseason, when he stretched his own limits of endurance. He plans to meet with future Hall of Fame closer Mariano Rivera at some point this offseason in what could only be described as the Cutter Summit.
“It’s a credit to him that he’s a superstar player and just wants to get better,” Dave Roberts said. “For him to want to get information from a great person and player in Mariano, that says a lot for Kenley and how great he wants to be.”
Back in December, Jansen had the strong feeling of wanting to stay with the only organization he has ever known, while Turner was able to offer a different perspective.
“Baseball didn’t come up until that day in his room when we were getting our haircut, for whatever reason. It wasn’t a sales pitch, because at the time I still didn’t know what I was doing,” Turner explained. “I was not sure yet. We just talked about what it meant to be a Dodger and how good all the people are in this organization, how good they’ve treated us.
“Kenley’s been here his whole career, but this is my fourth organization, and I just wanted to let him know how unbelievable this organization has been for me, having experience in different places.
“I told him on the dance floor, I said, hey, I’m coming back. And I don’t think I talked to him again the rest of the night. Then early the next morning I got on a plane and flew over to Aruba, and I was sitting on the beach when it came up on Twitter,” Turner added. “I found out just like you guys. That was a good mai tai on the beach.”
My only request is when this novel is written of Jansen and Turner’s return to the Dodgers, that the book be titled, “Till Depth Do Us Part.”
The Dodgers will hold a brief workout at Dodger Stadium on Monday before flying to Chicago on the off day. Game 3 is Tuesday night at Wrigley Field, a 6:01 p.m. first pitch with Yu Darvish starting for the Dodgers against Kyle Hendricks of the Cubs.