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  • The Dodgers didn't need a heroic walk-off home run to win Game 1 of this World Series. Clayton Kershaw did the heavy lifting on his own, dominating the Astros to give the Dodgers a 1-0 series lead.
By Jay Jaffe
October 24, 2017

In the first World Series battle between 100-win teams since 1970, the first World Series game at Dodger Stadium since 1988, and the hottest World Series game on record—103 degrees at first pitch—aces Clayton Kershaw and Dallas Keuchel put forth a brisk pitchers’ duel.

It reached the seventh-inning stretch in under two hours, and wrapped up in 2:28, the shortest World Series game since Game 4 in 1992. Against the two 29-year-old southpaws, home runs were the order of the day, with solo shots by Los Angeles’ Chris Taylor and Houston’s Alex Bregman the only runs until the bottom of the sixth, when Justin Turner’s two-run shot off Keuchel provided the margin of victory in the 3-1 win. Kershaw, with 11 strikeouts, got the upper hand among the two former Cy Young winners.

1. Them again

In the NLCS, Taylor and Turner—castoffs by their previous teams who relaunched their careers by changing their swing paths to hit more fly balls—clubbed two home runs apiece, with Taylor putting the Dodgers ahead for good in Games 1 and 3 and Turner hitting a walk-off shot in Game 2. The pair combined for 12 hits, six for extra bases, and shared Series MVP honors. They were at it again on Tuesday night, with Taylor connecting on Keuchel’s first pitch of the night, an 88 mph sinker on the inside of the plate, for a 447-foot shot to leftfield.

Via the Baseball-Reference Play Index, Taylor’s home run was the 23rd time a player led off his team’s half of the first inning in the World Series with a home run, and the fifth in the past four years:

World Series Game Player Team Opponent
2014 Game 2 Gregor Blanco Giants Royals
2015 Game 1 Alcides Escobar Royals* Mets
2015 Game 5 Curtis Granderson Mets* Royals
2016 Game 7 Dexter Fowler Cubs Indians
2017 Game 1 Chris Taylor Dodgers* Astros

*home team

The only other Dodger to do it was Davey Lopes, who led off the home half of the 1978 World Series Game 6 against the Yankees with a homer off Catfish Hunter.

After Bregman equalized the score with a fourth-inning solo shot off Kershaw, his third homer of the postseason, the two teams remained tied until Keuchel got two outs in the sixth, when Taylor worked a five-pitch walk, the lone free pass the Houston ace surrendered. Keuchel, who had struck out Turner and induced him to foul out to first base in his two previous plate appearances, got ahead 1-2 with three pitches out of the strike zone, but he left an 87 mph cutter where the Ginger Werewolf could shred it, and he did, a towering shot that was estimated at just 371 feet but got out to left centerfield.

The three runs were more than enough for Kershaw and the bullpen to work with.

2. Kershaw with the Ks

In the Dodgers two previous trips to the NLCS, Kershaw had thrown 19 or 19 1/3 postseason innings in the previous 14 days before making his fourth postseason start. He was subsequently rocked for a total of 12 runs in nine innings in those two turns. Heading into his fourth start of the 2017 postseason, he had thrown just 17 1/3 innings over the previous 17 days, the last few of those innings under comparatively little pressure given the Dodgers’ NLCS Game 5 blowout of the Cubs.

That may well have contributed to Kershaw’s sharpest performance of this October. He put forth his first 1-2-3 first inning of this run, needing just nine pitches, and was at 20 pitches through two. Kershaw used 31 pitches to get through the next two frames, recording strikeouts for all six outs but allowing his first two hits on the night, a one-out single to Josh Reddick in the third and then the Bregman homer in the fourth, via a 93 mph fastball left in the middle of the plate.

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The three-time Cy Young winner allowed just one more hit, a leadoff single by Jose Altuve to start the seventh. That inning has so often been Kershaw’s Waterloo in the postseason—he had gotten through it just three times in 17 previous postseason starts, and had been cuffed for a 24.00 ERA in that frame from 2013-17—​so one could hardly blame Dodger fans for thinking, “Here we go again” when the pint-sized hitting machine reached base. While the stifling Dodger bullpen was at the ready, with Kershaw’s pitch count at just 74 entering the inning, it was tough to begrudge manager Dave Roberts for sticking with his ace. Kershaw got first-pitch forceouts on each of the next two batters, even with Corey Seager’s poor feed to Logan Forsythe costing the Dodgers a double play on Yuli Gurriel’s grounder, and he needed four more pitches to induce Brian McCann to fly out.

Kershaw finished having thrown an economical 83 pitches, 57 for strikes. The key was his slider, a pitch that has flattened out all too often lately, particularly at higher velocities. That wasn’t a problem on this night. Kershaw got 24 strikes from among his 33 sliders, including six of his eight swings and misses, four of which were for strike three. Of his other seven strikeouts, six were on called strikes—one slider, two curveballs, and three fastballs—and one was a foul bunt.

Facing a team with the majors’ lowest strikeout rate—one that reached double digits a major league-low 21 times—Kershaw became the 17th pitcher to strike out at least 11 batters in a World Series start and the first since the Diamondbacks’ Randy Johnson did so in Game 2 of the 2001 World Series. What’s more, Kershaw didn’t walk anybody, making him the only one of those 17 pitchers besides the Brooklyn Dodgers’ Don Newcombe (1949 Game 1 against the Yankees) with such a ratio. Three other Dodgers whiffed at least 11 in a World Series start: Sandy Koufax (15 in 1963 Game 1 against the Yankees), Carl Erskine (14 in 1953 Game 3 against the Yankees) and Don Drysdale (11 in 1965 Game 4 against the Twins).

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After Kershaw, Brandon Morrow and Kenley Jansen each pitched a scoreless inning, running the Dodger bullpen’s streak of scoreless postseason innings to 25, dating back to the homer Morrow allowing to the Diamondbacks’ Brandon Drury in Game 2 of the NLDS. Between the starters and the bullpen, the Dodgers have allowed just one run on something besides a home run in this postseason, an unearned run allowed by Jansen in the Division Series opener. It’s tough to score when you don’t have a runner in scoring position; the Astros didn’t get one in this game, the Cubs went 0-for-14 in such situations and the Diamondbacks 1-for-9, and even those runs came via the Drury homer.​

3. Keuchel’s night

Where Kershaw racked up the K’s, Keuchel—whose 66.8 % groundball rate was tops among all pitchers with at least 140 innings—chewed through the Dodgers' lineup by generating groundballs. He produced 11 of them for outs, two of them for double plays (a third double play came via a lineout). He was tremendously efficient early in the game, going deeper than three pitches just three times in the first four innings, needing just 55 pitches to get through five.

As they’ve done so often in this postseason to other pitchers, the Dodgers did eventually wear Keuchel down. His 18-pitch sixth inning, with the Taylor walk and the Turner homer, was his longest full frame of the night, and he needed 10 pitches to get the first two outs of the seventh before Seager’s single spelled the end. In all, he threw 84 pitches, 52 for strikes, scattering six hits and one walk while striking out three, his lowest total of the 2017 postseason. In his previous three postseason starts, he’d whiffed 25 in 17 ⅓ innings.

For the night, Keuchel netted 10 swings and misses, four of them with the slider and another three with the cutter. Nonetheless, he got just 17 strikes from among the 30 pitches he threw of those two types. As ESPN’s Dave Schoenfield pointed out before the game, Keuchel ranked 133rd among 134 pitchers with at least 100 innings in percentage of pitches actually in the strike zone. The Dodger hitters were able to lay off several pitches of all types outside the zone, particularly those sliders and cutters, and they beat the best starter they faced in the postseason since Zack Greinke in Division Series Game 3.

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