Clayton Kershaw authored one of the most dominant postseason performances of his legendary career, recording eight strikeouts over six innings of one-run ball, while Cody Bellinger tattooed a two-run homer, and Mookie Betts launched a solo homer and stole a pair of bases, propelling the Dodgers to an 8-3 victory over the Rays on Tuesday in Game 1 of the World Series at Globe Life Field in Arlington, Texas.
With the Dodgers back in the Fall Classic for the third time in the last four years, Kershaw set the tone in the best-of-seven series opener, generating an eye-popping 19 swinging strikes, and compiled a staggering 44 percent CSW (called strikes plus whiffs) on 78 pitches. A solo homer by Kevin Kiermaier in the fifth inning represented the lone tally against him. The 32-year-old southpaw served up a leadoff single to Yandy Diaz and a one-out walk to Randy Arozarena, but managed to settle down, escaping the shaky frame completely unscathed. He displayed the renewed fastball velocity, averaging 91.4 mph on his heater, which had fueled his regular-season renaissance, and utilizing his deadly fastball/slider combination to retire 15 of the final 16 batters he faced over the next five innings. The veteran left-hander, who moved into second place on the postseason all-time strikeout list, will never fully silence the doubters until the Dodgers take home their first World Series since 1988; but this was the type of gritty throwback outing that will keep those dreaded narratives from re-surfacing and also sets up the Dodgers pitching staff for the remainder of the series.
With the former NL MVP and three-time Cy Young Award winner delivering a vintage performance on the mound, the Dodgers’ offense -- spearheaded by Bellinger and Betts -- responded with plenty of run support against Tyler Glasnow and the Rays bullpen in the middle innings. It was only the second time in Kershaw's 29 career postseason starts in which the Dodgers’ offense delivered eight or more runs of support by the time of his departure. Less than 48 hours after Bellinger’s shoulder popped out of place during a celebration with teammate Enrique Hernandez following his go-ahead home run in the seventh inning of Sunday's NLCS Game 7 win over the Braves, the sweet-swinging center fielder kicked off the offensive outpouring by connecting on a 98.2 mph fastball from Glasnow, walloping a towering two-run shot to right field in the fourth inning. The 25-year-old slugger is the first hitter since David Ortiz (2004) to hit a go-ahead homer in Game 7 of an LCS and another go-ahead homer in Game 1 of a World Series.
The Dodgers lineup employed a patient approach and displayed some stellar baserunning, tacking on four additional runs on three hits and a pair of walks in the fifth inning, before Betts clobbered a solo homer to right field off lefty reliever Josh Fleming in the sixth inning. The 28-year-old superstar became the first hitter to homer and steal a pair of bases in a World Series contest since Chase Utley accomplished the feat with the Phillies (ironically also against the Rays) back in 2008.
Simply put, the Rays’ offense failed to capitalize on their early opportunity against Kershaw, who was struggling to locate his fastball and had absolutely no feel for his slider in the opening stanza. Glasnow locked horns with Kershaw in a pitcher’s duel early on, and was effectively wild, recording eight strikeouts while also issuing six walks. The hard-throwing 27-year-old righty limited a formidable Dodgers’ lineup to a pair of runs, thanks to the center-cut heater to Bellinger in the fourth inning, before unraveling his third time through the order in the ensuing frame. Rays manager Kevin Cash’s decision to stick with his starter immediately backfired as Glasnow issued back-to-back walks to Mookie Betts and Corey Seager, who eventually came around to score on a fielder’s choice by Max Muncy and an RBI single from Will Smith later in the frame. He was lifted from the contest after throwing a career-high 112 pitches and was ultimately charged with six runs over 4 1/3 frames. Things didn’t get any better for the Rays bullpen from that point forward as lefty Ryan Yarbrough surrendered back-to-back RBI singles to Chris Taylor and pinch-hitter Kike Hernandez with two outs in the frame, giving the Dodgers a commanding five-run lead.
The Rays appeared to be on the verge of mounting a late-inning comeback when they plated a pair of runs on four consecutive hits against a tandem of relievers -- Dylan Floro and Victor Gonzalez -- in the seventh inning. Yet, Gonzalez managed to wriggle out of the big-time jam in truly miraculous fashion, stabbing a 105.6 mph line-drive off the bat of Mike Zunino, and starting an inning-ending double play to prevent any further damage. On the heels of a near-disaster in the seventh inning, Dodgers manager Dave Roberts turned to hard-throwing righties Pedro Baez and Joe Kelly, who tossed a pair of perfect frames to preserve a five-run victory. Not only did Roberts avoid having to utilize his main bullpen weapons -- Kenley Jansen, Blake Treinen and Brusdar Graterol -- but he also managed to avoid burning options like Dustin May, Tony Gonsolin or Julio Urias, which gives him plenty of options over the remainder of the series.
The Rays will look to rebound and even the best-of-seven series with dynamic left-hander Blake Snell on the mound for Game 2 on Wednesday evening. The Dodgers will counter with Gonsolin to start Game 2, but the most likely scenario involves May and potentially Urias gobbling up some innings in a piggyback scenario before ace Walker Buehler takes the ball for a pivotal Game 3 start on Friday night.
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