Kershaw aces Astros, rewrites October reputation in Dodgers' Game 1 win

LOS ANGELES -- In the first World Series game played at Dodger Stadium since 1988, with 54,253 fans and assorted players, media and other luminaries on hand, no one was hotter than Clayton Kershaw.

And, boy, was it was hot -- 103 degrees. Hotter than it has ever been at the start of an MLB postseason game. Hotter than the game-time temperatures of the previous two World Series openers combined. All that meant for Kershaw was that it was a lot like his days growing up playing baseball in his native Texas.

"It was hot tonight, so warming up, it didn't take long to get loose," Kershaw said. "But I tried to get that first inning under my belt. And, fortunately, I got that."

Kershaw was on his game from the beginning in his first World Series start, as the Los Angeles Dodgers topped the Houston Astros 3-1 in Game 1 on Tuesday.

Kershaw overpowered baseball's best lineup, striking out 11 over seven innings. He held the Astros, who led the majors in runs scored during the regular season, to three hits, including Alex Bregman's solo homer in the fourth.

"[The Astros are] a really good hitting team," Kershaw said "They hit a lot of homers and don't strike out. There's little room for error. So it's important for me to establish pitches, be able to throw multiple things for strikes, and thankfully I was able to do that tonight."

In another performance running contrary to old tales of his postseason woes, Kershaw finished one strikeout shy of his playoff career best. He notched his fifth double-digit strikeout performance in the postseason. And against a Houston lineup full of high-contact hitters, he became only the third pitcher this season to reach 10 K's against the Astros.

In doing so, Kershaw might have dealt one of the final blows to his largely exaggerated postseason record, one marred by a handful of shaky innings, often when working on short rest. But Kershaw looked fresh and feisty Tuesday, roaring out of the gate with eight strikeouts over the first four innings alone.

"Tonight was one of those nights, I think the first time in a while, where we've seen all three of his pitches synced up," Dodgers manager Dave Roberts said. "He just was repeating the delivery, held the velocity. Was throwing the baseball where he needed to, where he wanted to.

"[Houston is a] very talented team over there. And for him to get ahead, keep them off balance, work them from front to back, up and down, to all quadrants. This was a special night for Clayton."

One of the distinctive qualities of Dodger Stadium, baseball's third-oldest venue, is that it integrates the history of the franchise more than other parks. All parks have nods to history, but for Dodgers players, they descend to field level and walk past walls lined with historical photos, Gold Gloves, Silver Slugger bats. You'd have to be pretty locked onto your smartphone to miss it.

What's more, Dodgers greats from the past are around on a daily basis. Don Newcombe can often be found in the dugout, where he is regularly chatted up by closer Kenley Jansen. Sandy Koufax is a steady presence and has an admirer in Kershaw. Fernando Valenzuela can be found hanging out in the press box as part of the team's Spanish-language broadcast team. Tommy Lasorda watches from the fourth row. You could go on and on.

"It's something that I feel extremely proud to be able to put on the same uniform as those guys that have their name on the wall," third baseman Justin Turner said, after another star-making postseason turn of his own. "It's something that I don't just walk by every day with my blinders up. I try to soak it in every chance I can."

Most of those greats on the wall cemented their respective legends with World Series heroics in long-ago Fall Classics. That has been the one missing component of Kershaw's career -- the lack of World Series appearances, and the occasional struggles in the rounds preceding it.

If Game 1 had gone very differently, the overblown narrative about the October version of Kershaw might have entered Mark Twain territory. Instead, with a snappy performance in a 2-hour, 28-minute game that was the World Series' shortest since 1992, he's rewriting his story on the fly.

"He's one of the most competitive people I've ever been around in my life," Turner said. "To see him out there tonight doing what he did to one of the best offenses in baseball -- that's a really good offense over there, a really good lineup, and they don't strike out. He gets us through seven innings and strikes out 11. It was incredible."

Kershaw didn't walk a batter. His 11 strikeouts tied Newcombe, who was at the park for Game 1, for the most K's in a walk-less performance. No World Series pitcher had ever hit those two benchmarks while also giving up three hits or fewer. It was a Koufax-like performance.

"I just saw [Koufax]," Kershaw said. "He's here. Yeah, he's in our corner. He's rooting for us. I've said it a million times, but he's a special guy. Not too many guys can have that pedigree and be the kind of man he is. And I'm thankful that I've gotten to hang out with him for a little while."

Kershaw needed to be Koufax-good, because Houston starter Dallas Keuchel nearly matched him pitch for pitch.

"Keuchel was really good tonight," Astros manager A.J. Hinch said. "He was just a pitch or two less than Kershaw."

Kershaw had help, of course. As has been the case throughout a postseason run that has seen the Dodgers win eight of their nine games, the lights-out pitching staff got just enough long-ball support to get the win.

The sources of that power are becoming fixtures on the national stage alongside Kershaw. There's Chris Taylor, a utility player before this season, who was named co-MVP of the National League Championship Series win over the Chicago Cubs. He homered to left on the first pitch thrown by Keuchel. The blast was measured at 447 feet by Statcast.

"He's the spark plug," Turner said. "When he goes, we go. When he gets on base, we're a lot better offense. So just to be able to be in the moment right there and be ready to hit, 0-0 on the first pitch of the World Series, and put that kind of swing on a ball and put us up 1-0 after one pitch, it's incredible."

In the Dodgers' half of the sixth, Taylor drew a two-out walk off Keuchel to extend the inning. Just as it happened in the Dodgers' Game 2 win against the Cubs, Taylor's walk preceded a game-turning homer from the other NLCS co-MVP, Turner, who jolted the Dodger Stadium crowd with a shot to left field.

Turner's two RBIs gave him 26 for his postseason career, matching Duke Snider's franchise record. Turner has four homers and 14 RBIs in this postseason, that latter figure a Dodgers record all his own.

"Postseason is definitely a lot more fun," Turner said, before name-dropping in expert fashion. "Sandy told me -- Koufax -- told me today, 162 [regular-season games] is work. Once you get to the playoffs, it's fun. And I thought that was a pretty cool way to look at it. I agree with him a hundred percent."

Still, the night belonged to Kershaw, whom the day before his start said that, because he's from Texas, the extreme autumn heat would not be a problem. It wasn't, as he matched his postseason high for innings pitched and has now lowered his career postseason ERA from 4.55 entering this year's playoffs to 4.21.

After four outings this October, Kershaw is 3-0 with a 2.96 ERA and 27 strikeouts in 24⅓ innings. Is this playoff Kershaw better than the old playoff Kershaw? Maybe, maybe not. But with one more strong outing and three more Dodgers wins, the old nitpicks will finally be put to bed.

"I don't know if you can decipher between a postseason start and a World Series start," Kershaw said, leaving it to the rest of us to make the delineation. "The adrenaline, I feel like every game is so much more magnified. You can't really tell the difference between another postseason game or a World Series start.

"It definitely feels good to say it was the World Series, and it feels good to say we're 1-0. We have to come back tomorrow and do it again."

Kershaw departed after throwing only 83 pitches, as Roberts decided to turn the game over to a bullpen that has been impenetrable during the playoffs. It was again.

Perhaps best of all, Kershaw pitched a scoreless seventh. He entered the game with a 25.50 ERA in his six playoff seventh innings. Another postseason dragon slain.

In doing so, Kershaw put up one of the best World Series starts in the history of a franchise rich with them. Kershaw's game score, a measure of a pitcher's overall effectiveness, was 78. According to baseball-reference.com, that ranks tied for 12th among the 106 World Series starts in franchise history, putting him in the neighborhood of Dodgers legends like Newcombe, Koufax, Don Drysdale and Orel Hershiser.

Hershiser posted that 78 game score with a complete-game performance to clinch the Dodgers' last title in 1988.

Kershaw has been living in the neighborhood of those legends in the regular season for a long time. On Tuesday, he showed that no stage is too big for him, and now he has the Dodgers three wins from their first championship in 29 years.

Nevertheless, the Dodgers remain fixated on the three wins they need rather than the eight wins they already have.

"Speaking for me, personally, it's more -- and I think to the [team] as well -- it's the World Series," Roberts said. "But I think we had our goal and our mindset of winning 11 games in October. So right now we've won eight. And that's the only thing that we've been thinking of."