BOSTON — Even after the leadoff walk, Kenley Jansen still had a chance to close out Saturday’s game. He protected a two-run lead in the ninth — a little wiggle room — and his first pitch to Willson Contreras was a 93-mph cutter for strike one. Jansen faced Contreras seven times in his career and never allowed him to reach base. The Red Sox closer was determined to chase down the hitter in the game down the line.
So, when Jansen came up for his next pitch and saw Contreras looking toward the mound, Jansen began his delivery.
And that’s why Saturday’s game got away from him. All because of one pitch he didn’t throw.
“That was the mistake I made,” Jansen said. “And I let that get away from me. It just messed up my whole game.”
In a span of four pitches, Jansen was called for two pitch-clock violations that ultimately put the tying run on base. By raising his bat and looking at the mound — but never putting both feet in the batter’s box — Contreras found a new way to disrupt the pitcher’s timing. Two fouls, including on ball four, led to a walk that sent everyone unraveling. Add a booming double and a costly error, and Jansen had his second blowout in a row, losing to the Cardinals 4-3 and wasting a great start by Chris Sale.
“It’s not good because I learned (from) experience now (about) the rule,” Jansen said. “And it cost me a game.”
The new pitch-clock rule states that a batter must be alert and ready to hit when there are eight seconds left on the clock, and a pitcher cannot throw a pitch until the hitter ready. Jansen, who was admittedly excited by Contreras’ attack, stared at Contreras’ head and bat as a sign of his readiness to hit, but he didn’t notice that Contreras was taking his time on his feet. in position.
After the first-pitch strike, Jansen let out about 10 seconds – a 20-second pitch clock at that point – before bending his left leg and starting his delivery. Contreras looked toward the mound, but was clearly standing with his feet clearly out of position to hit. Home plate umpire Derek Thomas came out from behind the plate to issue a warning before Jansen gave the pitch. No ball was called, and Thomas called the offense. Jansen was allowed a do-over.
But just seconds later, Jansen did the same thing. This time it was a foul on a ball.
“He did it the first time and I think I said, ‘He’s going to do it again,'” Contreras said. “So, I’ll just wait.”
That’s exactly what he did. With the back of his bat and his eyes ahead, Contreras’ upper body looked like an engaged hitter ready for a pitch, but he didn’t move his left foot in the box. Jansen didn’t notice and he started his delivery. That was illegal.
On the next two pitches, Contreras got into the box with both feet, but Jansen missed low each time for balls two and three. When Jansen came up for his 3-1 pitch, Contreras drew another foul on ball four.
Jansen walked the first two batters in a total of six balls.
“I was a little confused because Contreras was looking at me,” said Jansen. “But when I went and saw the tape, his hands were raised and he was looking at me, but his feet were not. I focused more (on), he kept looking at me, I will go home. I think they (punished) me twice. “
Jansen noted that the rules make it difficult for a pitcher to mess with a hitter’s timing, but …
“I think hitters can really bother us,” he said.
Contreras did exactly that on Saturday.
The rest of the inning was a more routine disaster. Pinch hitter Nolan Gorman smacked a one-out RBI double to left field, then an intentional walk loaded the bases for Alec Burleson, who hit a soft groundball that was a hard which is a double play. Kiké Hernández tried to turn it around – a play that could have saved the game if he had gotten the ball to first base in time – but he threw the ball into foul territory, allowing the go-ahead score.
“Just trying to force a game to go bang-bang,” Hernández said.
That was it. Lead is blown. The Red Sox got a two-out single in the bottom of the ninth but couldn’t rally, and Jansen was left with his second blown save in as many times since recording his 400th career save on Wednesday.
The latest meltdown marred another good night for the Red Sox rotation, which has begun to right the ship after an ugly start to the season. Brayan Bello was good on Thursday, James Paxton was impressive in his return from the injured list on Friday and Sale was huge in eight innings on Saturday. Leaning heavily on his slider — 11 swings and misses, 10 called strikes — Sale allowed just three hits and one walk while striking out nine. At one point he retired 11 in a row, and when he walked off the mound in the bottom of the eighth, Sale had thrown 110 pitches, the most he had thrown in a game since July 23, 2019.
“I came out in the eighth inning and obviously looked at the bullpen,” Sale said. “The passing of the great man. You’re like, ‘Okay, here we go.’ This game is not easy. (Jansen) is in (a) good mind now. Sometimes, you just can’t do it.”
Will more hitters try to trouble Jansen like Contreras did on Saturday?
“I don’t care,” Jansen said. “I just need to pay attention to the feet.”
— The AthleticKatie Woo by Katie Woo contributed to this report.
(Top photo by Kenley Jansen: Winslow Townson/Getty Images)