LOS ANGELES – Justin Turner stood in the seventh inning Tuesday night in the heart of a pitcher’s duel, Game 1 of the World Series having fallen heavy for the left arms of Clayton Kershaw and Dallas Keuchel.
A couple early fly balls had cleared the left-field fence, one for each side.
In came Turner, who, on the anniversary of Kirk Gibson’s iconic home run in Game 1 of the last World Series the Los Angeles Dodgers had played, walked off the Chicago Cubs in a National League Championship Series game. In came Turner, who ripped a cutter from Keuchel into the left-field bleachers on the Dodgers’ next Game 1 of the World Series.
The two-run homer, along with seven precise innings from Kershaw and a first-inning home run by Chris Taylor, brought the Dodgers a 3-1 win against the Houston Astros at Dodger Stadium. Game 2 is Wednesday night at Dodger Stadium.
Co-MVP of the NLCS, Turner is batting .371 with four home runs and 14 RBI in nine postseason games. In his career, across 27 postseason games, all with the Dodgers, he is batting .363 with six home runs and 26 home runs.
Twenty-nine years, a week and a day had passed since Dodger Stadium hosted a World Series game. Orel Hershiser had thrown a three-hit shutout. Tommy Lasorda had shaken his hand. Rick Honeycutt had been in the other dugout, having pitched the eighth inning for the other team, the Oakland A’s. The old place, on that night, probably was clearing its head from the previous night, which had ended on Kirk Gibson’s pinch home run.
So it was half a lifetime later that Honeycutt, the Dodgers’ pitching coach, put the ball back in the hand of his generational pitcher, Kershaw. Kershaw had finished off the Cubs five days before. In three prior starts this postseason, the Dodgers had won all three. Kershaw’s ERA was 3.63. He’d struck out 16 and walked five in 17 1/3 innings. There’d been less talk about who Kershaw could be in the postseason, in part because a deeper rotation and more capable bullpen had seen to it not as much was asked of him.
For plenty of reasons, Kershaw had made 21 postseason appearances and thrown 106 1/3 postseason innings with none of them coming in the World Series. At 4:22 p.m PT, Kershaw, wearing a blue jacket, climbed the dugout stairs and walked along the foul line into the left-field corner, where fans welcomed him with a roar of support.
Nineteen minutes later, or about the length of a very long half-inning, Keuchel strode from the right-field bullpen, he recognizable by his black-out curtain beard. Also, by the KEUCHEL across his back. Keuchel was the American League’s Cy Young award winner in 2015, only the second time in five seasons Kershaw hadn’t won the NL version. The start would be Keuchel’s sixth in the postseason, and also his first in a World Series. He warmed beneath a sun that seemed a few feet closer than usual this time of year here, while Kershaw had the shady side of the field to himself.
Keuchel got the worst of it early. Like, very early. On his first pitch, a fastball on the inner part of the plate, Taylor lashed a long fly ball that landed near the top of the left-field bleachers. The home run was the third of the postseason for Taylor, who, with Turner, was co-MVP of the NLCS.
Keuchel watched it go. He turned, licked his lips, and raised his glove for another baseball.
The Astros drew even in the fourth inning. Alex Bregman, the only Astro to have lifted the ball against Kershaw among the first 10 to bat (he flied to left in the first inning), flicked at a belt-high fastball and it, like Taylor’s, was cast into the bleachers.
Kershaw watched it go. He turned, muttered “No,” and raised his glove for another baseball. He struck out the next three Astros – Jose Altuve, Carlos Correa and Yuli Gurriel – in the fourth, having by then recorded eight strikeouts. In the sixth inning, with a strikeout of Keuchel, Kershaw had his fifth postseason start of at least 10 strikeouts. Then he struck out the next hitter, George Springer. No pitcher had struck out 11 Astros in a single game this season.
Kershaw allowed just the run over seven innings. Keuchel allowed three in 6 2/3. Kenley Jansen pitched the ninth for his fourth save of this postseason and the 12th in his career.