The ninth inning of Friday’s game between the Los Angeles Dodgers and Chicago Cubs at Dodger Stadium featured something rarely, if ever, seen in baseball. With two outs in the ninth inning and Jason Heyward on second base, Kenley Jansen turned in Heyward’s direction and appeared to shout that he would balk.
Jansen then returned to the mound and did just that, committing a blatant intentional balk that allowed Heyward to advance to third base. The unorthodox move ended up being meaningless as Jansen struck out Victor Caratini to earn the save.
With the Dodgers up by two runs and Heyward the only man on base, it was immediately speculated that Jansen balked so that signs would not be relayed to Caratini. Many players employ sign-stealing as a form of gamesmanship, and perhaps Jansen believed Heyward was a culprit.
While Jansen confirmed the balk was intentional, he explained it stemmed from a strategic decision by Dodgers bench coach Bob Geren and not out of fear Heyward was relaying signs, per Ken Gurnick of MLB.com:
“The way the game was going, we definitely want to tighten up the signs, not that the Cubs are stealing signs or anything,” explained Jansen.
“We feel, me and Uncle Bob [Geren], we’ve been talking about it for a little bit and he came up with the idea with [leads of] two runs or three runs and two outs. Especially yesterday, tying run at the plate, not saying anything about nobody, you just never know. Always got to be on your toes. Just be extra little cautious.
“I finally thought it was a good time to try it and it turned out pretty well.”
This is not the first time that the extremely competitive Jansen has tried to gain an advantage in an unusual way. He has been open to suggestions from Dodgers management before, even though he is not afraid to voice his opinion publicly.
He did so after resting through much of Spring Training in 2018, only for it to backfire. Jansen went into this past spring vowing to pitch more regularly even if the team still wanted to monitor his workload.
That hasn’t completely solved his struggles but lately Jansen seems to have rediscovered his old form. He was unhittable over the past six weeks, allowing just four hits over 10.1 scoreless innings.
However, that streak was snapped when Anthony Rizzo hit a game-winning, two-run homer off Jansen in the ninth inning of Saturday’s game. Jansen attributed it to lacking feel for his pitches and said he would continue focusing on improving moving forward.