LOS ANGELES -- The Dodgers were one strike away from a win Saturday night. And before the next pitch was thrown, the Padres scored two runs, leaving the Dodgers shocked, embarrassed and beaten, 7-6.
"First one I've ever seen like that," said manager Don Mattingly. "It was really a weird play."
Kenley Jansen gave new meaning to the term "blown save," turning his back on Everth Cabrera at third base between pitches and setting in motion one of the most bizarre straight steals of home imaginable.
"I wanted to try something different, and we won the game," Cabrera said. "When he turned his back to the plate I decided to go. I cheated a couple of steps down the line and took off when he turned around."
Jansen, trying to protect a two-run lead provided by Andre Ethier's two-run homer in the sixth inning, allowed ninth-inning singles by Yonder Alonso and Will Venable, with Cabrera running for Alonso and giving the Padres runners on the corners.
Cameron Maybin struck out on an epic 11-pitch at-bat for the first out. During pinch-hitter Mark Kotsay's at-bat, which ended with a popup for the second out, Venable stole second without a throw, which turned out to be a decisive concession by the Dodgers.
Alexi Amarista got ahead in the count 2-0, then Jansen evened the count at 2-2. Jansen got the ball back from catcher A.J. Ellis and kicked at the rubber, trying to dislodge mud from his spikes, then he took a step toward the mat behind the mound for some further shoe maintenance and Cabrera suddenly took off for the plate, catching the home battery asleep.
"No excuses there. I just have to pay attention," Jansen said. "Those guys are fast. Next time I should call a timeout. We lost the game because I didn't call a timeout."
They also fell out of first place in the National League West, a half-game behind the Giants.
Ellis tried to take the blame for the play.
"We got the big second strike on their guy and as we do here, our crowd got really fired up and got really loud and I had my head down, which was a big mistake," Ellis said. "You never drop your head. I need to be more heads up and paying attention. We had a guy on third base who can make plays happen. It was nothing Kenley did. I have to be more responsible there, so that one is on me. He took off and it was just a good play by him."
By the time Jansen turned back around and realized Cabrera was heading home, he overthrew Ellis and the ball hit the backstop. Adding to the confusion, Ellis plunged his glove (without the ball) into the sliding Cabrera and plate umpire Greg Gibson emphatically called Cabrera out, which, if true, would have ended the game.
Then Gibson realized Ellis' phantom tag was missing something (the ball) and the game wasn't over after all, but momentarily tied on a steal of home.
Meanwhile, Venable took off from second when the ball hit the backstop and rounded third. Ellis retrieved the ball, but Jansen compounded his first mistake by forgetting to cover the plate, Venable beating the late-arriving pitcher, who was walking slowly toward home until he realized too late that the go-ahead run was about to score.
"I saw no one was covering home," said Venable.
"When I saw the umpire call him out, I froze from there," Jansen said, explaining why he wasn't covering home in time.
Mattingly went to great lengths to minimize criticism of Jansen.
"It's a lesson for him and us as a team," he said. "I don't want him to get too down on himself. I was proud of the way he almost got out of that. It's better that it happens now than in the playoffs or the last game with everything on the line. You don't want it to happen ever, but it could happen to anybody. It is bizarre."
Jansen came into the game having converted 10 consecutive save opportunities while not allowing a hit in nine consecutive innings. He still is hounded by erratic velocity, as his cutter was clocked at 88 mph to the first batter he faced but as high as 95 mph to Maybin.
The disastrous ending obscured six runs from the offense, with three hits apiece from Ethier and Matt Kemp in their second game back from the disabled list and two more hits from Mark Ellis, Friday night's homer hero. But the Dodgers also stranded 11 runners.
"We've got to play better, heads-up baseball for all nine innings and make sure we finish the game out," Ethier said.
The late collapse cost starter Aaron Harang a victory. He allowed three earned runs (and homers to Chase Headley and Carlos Quentin) in seven innings and shook off a liner off his pitching hand and wrist.
"It's not every night you see that happen," Harang said of the ending.
Ken Gurnick is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.