DENVER | Kenta Maeda felt something the veteran pitcher doesn’t always experience — a touch of nerves.
Stepping into the shoes of All-Star closer Kenley Jansen happens to be stressful work. Even more so in the heat of a division chase.
Clayton Kershaw threw six effective innings, Maeda finished the ninth in place of Jansen and the Los Angeles Dodgers crept closer to the NL West-leading Colorado Rockies with a 4-2 win on Friday night.
Yasiel Puig homered and had an RBI single for the Dodgers, who climbed within a half-game of the Rockies as they began a pivotal three-game series. This is the latest into the season the Rockies have been alone in first place since 1995.
“We need to play like we’re in the playoffs right now and close to the World Series,” Puig said.
Kershaw (7-5) baffled the Rockies even if he didn’t have his best stuff. The left-hander allowed two runs and six hits as he improved to 22-7 in 39 career starts against Colorado, with a 3.21 ERA.
Scott Alexander got two outs in the eighth and began the ninth in place of Jansen, who didn’t make the trip after a team cardiologist recommended he not pitch at altitude after suffering an irregular heartbeat episode in Denver last month.
Alexander gave up a long single to Chris Iannetta and struck out Charlie Blackmon before turning it over to Maeda. He got two outs, including a strikeout of Nolan Arenado to end the game and earn his second save.
“Still makes me a little nervous,” Maeda said of filling in as closer.
Chris Rusin (2-3) took the loss for the Rockies, who had their five-game winning streak halted. They’re chasing after their first division title.
“We just need to kick that to the side,” said starter Jon Gray, who went four innings, allowed two runs, walked five and struck out four. “We know what kind of ball club we are. We’re a lot better than we were today.”
Reliever Dylan Floro threw one of the biggest pitches of the game when he struck out Trevor Story on a slider with two outs and the bases loaded in the seventh. Story hit three homers Wednesday against San Francisco, including one that went an estimated 505 feet.
A crowd of 41,547 saw a game that featured a little bit of everything, including Matt Holliday hitting his first regular season homer off Kershaw, Rockies manager Bud Black getting ejected for arguing a balk call in the fifth and, later that inning, a throwing error by Gold Glove third baseman Arenado which allowed the go-ahead run to score.
Puig followed with a two-out, run-scoring single to give the Dodgers a 4-2 lead.
Dodgers: RHP Ross Stripling (lower back inflammation) was reinstated from the disabled list. He got one out in the eighth.
Rockies: LHP Mike Dunn is scheduled to have surgery on his pitching shoulder Sept. 19. He’s been sidelined since early July.
GOING FOR THIRD
Kershaw pulled into second with a double in the sixth and thought about stretching it into a triple.
“I was thinking about Coors Field and you don’t breathe as well and I don’t want to be tired,” Kershaw said.
Jansen has experienced an irregular heartbeat several times while the Dodgers were in Colorado. His most recent episode happened Aug. 9 during the start of a four-game series at Coors Field. He ended up having his heart shocked back into rhythm at a Denver hospital. He was placed on the disabled list a day later and began taking blood-thinning medication.
Dodgers manager Dave Roberts plans to use a bullpen-by-committee approach this weekend.
Jansen is slated to join the team in Cincinnati, the second of three stops on the Dodgers’ 10-game trip.
Holliday homered off Kershaw during Game 2 of the Division Series on Oct. 8, 2009, while he was with St. Louis.
Dodgers rookie RHP Walker Buehler (6-2, 2.92) gets another taste of Coors Field on Saturday. He threw seven scoreless innings on Aug. 11 in a no-decision. The Rockies counter with LHP Kyle Freeland (13-7, 2.96), whose 2.27 home ERA season is among the league’s best.
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