ATLANTA — Kenley Jansen would have preferred to record his 400th career save at Fenway Park. That was the vision he had in his head when the season started.
But baseball history rarely follows a script, and it was at Truist Park where Jansen took the mound with a milestone in his grasp on Wednesday night.
In the end, maybe that made even more sense. Jansen is from Curacao and as a child idolized his countryman, Andruw Jones, the star outfielder for the Braves.
“The team that I grew up watching, grew up loving and I did it today here in their stadium,” Jansen said. “It can’t be better than that.”
Jansen is the seventh pitcher in history with 400 saves. Three of them — Mariano Rivera, Trevor Hoffman, and Lee Smith — are in the Hall of Fame and Billy Wagner is trending that way, having received 68.1 percent of the votes last year with two years left on the ballot.
Jansen could join them someday. He has 20 postseason saves, a World Series title, and three All-Star games on his résumé. By the time he’s done playing he could have 450 or more saves and climb to fourth all-time.
His dominance for the Red Sox this season suggests that’s possible. Jansen has converted nine of 10 save chances and allowed one earned run over 11⅔ innings.
Not bad for someone signed as a 17-year-old catcher by the Dodgers in 2004 and didn’t become a pitcher until he was 21.
Jansen dialed it back to his younger days on Wednesday. The scoreboard radar gun twice flashed 99 miles per hour as he faced Travis d’Arnaud needing one more out. Jansen hadn’t thrown a pitch that hard in six years.
Sox infielders Justin Turner and Kiké Hernández, who both played with Jansen while with the Dodgers, gave each other a look. Where did that come from?
Jansen then turned to a slider, knowing d’Arnaud would be expecting more heat. His swing was too early and the celebration was on.
“This game is such a great game,” said Sox manager Alex Cora, who couldn’t believe the three former Dodgers and good friends happened to be on the field at the same time.
“That’s cool, man,” Jansen said. “Those are the guys. We went through the good times, the bad times. We did it all. It was even better to have those guys behind me.”
As the Sox celebrated Jansen’s accomplishment with gifts and a video of former teammates, coaches, and managers congratulating him, Turner kept his eyes locked on his friend to see his reaction.
They played together in Los Angeles from 2014-21 and became close, leaning on each other during turbulent times.
“Pretty special,” Turner said, “About a week ago, knowing he was coming up on this, I went back and looked. I think I’ve now seen about 300 of the 400 saves.
“Knowing where he came from, knowing who he is, knowing everything, all the adversity that he’s been through, the ups and downs … I couldn’t be more proud of anyone.”
Jansen has twice had surgery to correct an irregular heartbeat and on four other occasions missed games because of heart-related issues.
When Jansen said he never thought he’d reach this milestone, that wasn’t his being modest. His career was in danger several times.
At 35, Jansen isn’t ready to retire. He’s in the first season of a two-year, $32 million deal with the Red Sox and has already set a goal to pitch beyond that contract, perhaps until he’s 40.
“Why not,” he said. “I’ve still got a lot in the tank left. Every day I’m going to put the work in … All I can control is control what I can control and that’s to keep working hard every day.”
Jansen is a recreational guitar player and his teammates presented him with a custom-made bass with artwork commemorating his achievement.
His time with the Sox has been brief but Jansen has quickly become a respected figure.
Now he’ll be celebrated across the game.
“I never thought I would be this emotional,” Jansen said. “This definitely hits bigger than all those other numbers that I’ve had before. It means a lot.”