LOS ANGELES — Welcome to The Club, Clayton Kershaw. Your trial membership has been approved.
Just don’t mess up your next assignment — or even better, have your team complete a World Series sweep so that your next assignment arrives in 2018 Cactus League action — and you’ll receive unconditional tenure, never to sweat the silly stuff again.
Kershaw’s Fall Classic debut wound up as big a hit as Bruce Springsteen’s Broadway debut, and the Dodgers continued their scalding-hot October on, well, a scalding-hot Tuesday night at Dodger Stadium. The three-time National League Cy Young Award winner dominated the Astros in World Series Game 1, and Mets castoff Justin Turner provided the game-winning, two-run homer to lead Los Angeles to a 3-1 victory and a quick (as in 2 hours and 28 minutes) 1-0 lead in this series.
“Tonight was one of those nights, I think the first time in a while, where we’ve seen all three of his pitches [fastball, slider and curveball] 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. … This was a special night for Clayton.”
In what was a long time coming for both this fan base (the Dodgers were playing in their first World Series game since they won it all in 1988) and this pitcher, Kershaw made it worth the wait, allowing only three hits in seven innings while striking out 11. The last Dodgers pitcher to strike out 10 or more in a World Series game? None other than Sandy Koufax, whom Kershaw regards as a mentor and who attended Tuesday’s game. Koufax whiffed 10 Twins in Game 7 of the 1965 Fall Classic.
If Kershaw retired right now, he would have an excellent chance at joining Koufax in the Hall of Fame, so spectacular has his first decade in the majors gone. In addition to the three Cy Youngs, he won National League Most Valuable Player honors in 2014. Yet his postseason adventures registered as a black mark despite several memorable performances — many, including a save against the Nationals in last year’s NL Division Series, on short rest — because he carried an overall 4.40 ERA in 106¹/₃ October innings into this start. Simply enough, he had mixed in too many stinkers with those memorable performances.
This year, with a deeper starting rotation and a superior overall roster, the Dodgers haven’t required such heroics from Kershaw. So on normal four days’ rest, having beaten the Cubs in last week’s pennant-winner, he excelled. The 103 first-degree temperature didn’t appear to faze him in the least.
“Once the game started, the sun went down, it didn’t feel that hot,” he said.
“That was pretty impressive what he could do, throwing a ton of fastballs,” Astros manager A.J. Hinch said. “He landed his breaking ball a little bit better than we’ve seen in the past, but he’s tough. He showed it tonight by being in attack mode, being in the strike zone early and got us pretty defensive from the get-go.”
Of Kershaw’s 83 pitches, 57 went for strikes
It felt picture perfect for a guy who must have envisioned this so many times, coming so close so often, over the years. That picture can be framed, and Kershaw never again will have to answer questions about his October history, if just a few more things go right for the southpaw and his super-team.
By Ken Davidoff