Wednesday, October 25, 2017

World Series Game 1: Sorry, Wrong Number

By Jeff Kallman

If you're looking for perspective with the World Series underway, you could always begin with this. No pitcher struck out as many as 11 Astros in a game on the regular season. Until they ran into Clayton Kershaw in Game 1.

For that matter, no pitcher in Dodger silks had struck out 10 or more in any World Series game since Game 7 of the 1965 World Series — a fellow named Sandy Koufax, who struck out 15 Twins that day — until Kershaw punched out his 11 Tuesday night.

Until Chris Taylor watched Dallas Keuchel throw him a fastball practically down the pipe to open the bottom of the first, only three men prior to him ever led off their team's first World Series inning with a home run. Make room, Don Buford (1969 Orioles), Dustin Pedroia (2007 Red Sox), and Alcides Escobar (2015 Royals).

Did we mention that until Justin Turner took Keuchel out for a pair that only one Dodger prior to him had ever compiled 26 postseason runs batted in? Nice to meet you, too, Duke Snider.

Oh, and by the way. That was Kershaw you saw going out to pitch the seventh. The inning that's been his personal revival of Sorry, Wrong Number for more postseasons than he probably cares to remember. But Monday night, with a little help from back-to-back force outs and a fly out to center, he convinced the coppers there really was a murderer to stop.

Astros third baseman Alex Bregman must be feeling left out. Tying the game off Kershaw in the fourth with a leadoff bomb put him ... nowhere into his team's or the Show's record books. It just gave the Astros a momentary ray of hope on a night Kershaw was somewhere above and beyond even his best.

Kershaw tied Don Newcombe's Dodgers team record for strikeouts without a walk in a single World Series game. Yet he stood alone as a Dodger and in the Show for punching out the most while surrendering three hits or less. But if you ask him what things like that meant Monday night, he'll tell you what he told ESPN's Buster Olney postgame: "It means 1-0."

It also meant that, other than Bregman and Jose Altuve, only Josh Reddick collected a hit. George Springer, Carlos Correa, Yuli Gurriel, Brian McCann, and Marwin Gonzalez went a collective 0-for-24 to open the Series. Springer was four times a Kershaw K; Gurriel twice; Altuve, Correa, Gonzalez, and Reddick, once apiece. Keuchel also struck out twice while he was at it.

Keuchel wasn't even close to terrible on the mound. His overall command was exceptional and, in between Taylor and Turner, he was almost as frustrating for the Dodgers as Kershaw was for the Astros. On any other night, a 6-hit, 1-walk performance would have been good enough for him to win.

Keuchel used his defense a little more frequently, but that's not exactly unheard of from him. A Keuchel game without at least one double play sometimes seems anomalous. The Astros turning two on the Dodgers Monday night seemed just about right when the cool left-hander is on the mound.

But he wasn't Kershaw. And he knows it.

"It was a good atmosphere; it was as fun as I had imagined," said the left-hander whose long, squared beard and playful face make him resemble a friendly lumberjack ready to offer a wandering, lost house guest a fresh pot of coffee.

"Taylor hit a first-pitch four-seamer out of the yard, kind of hit us in the jaw," Keuchel continued. "We recovered nicely. I knew we would scratch a run, maybe two, off of Kershaw. But he was as good as advertised. It was one pitch away from being 1-1 going into the seventh."

Throwing Taylor something creamy enough to drive three fourths of the way up the left field bleachers was a horrible way to spoil the first World Series pitch of Keuchel's life. Throwing Turner a two-out, one aboard, 1-2 breaking ball that broke only enough to arrive belt high, something Turner could have driven just a sliver over the left field fence in his sleep, meant a two-bomb start for Keuchel for the first time since early May.

"We knew he liked to get ahead early," said Taylor, who also wrung Keuchel for a walk before Turner teed off. "He does a really good job of picking at the corners and throws a lot of chase pitches. But I just wanted to go up there and be aggressive and try to jump on that first-pitch strike." Jump on it? He practically scared it out.

"Keuchel has good stuff," said Turner after the game. "And he locates. He doesn't make very many mistakes." These Dodgers learn fast never to look a gift horse in the mouth.

"With Turner, you feel like you can get into the at-bat a little bit, but he never concedes," said Astros manager A.J. Hinch. "We know he's going to be a tough out. The guy in front of him is a tough out. And you've just got to make pitches."

Whether the Dodgers believe in good luck charms as much as spoiling the other guy's rare mistakes might be another question altogether. But the sight of franchise icon Rachel Robinson, the 95-year-old-widow of Jackie Robinson, tossing out a ceremonial first pitch with their son, David, throwing one next to her, must have given them something more than the smiles, the hugs, and the continuing respect she's been shown since her husband's death — 45 years to the day before Game 1.

Three other Dodger icons were also in the house — Koufax, longtime broadcaster Vin Scully, and the man who managed them to their last World Series triumph, Tommy Lasorda. None to anyone's knowledge were seen holding or sticking pins into Astro voodoo dolls.

Koufax, of course, predicted the Dodgers would get to the World Series after they swept the Diamondbacks in the division series. "Yeah, he is in our corner. He's rooting for us," said Kershaw, who had a postgame chat with the Hall of Famer. "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 thankful that I've gotten to hang out with him for a little while."

And there wasn't one fan in the house who even thought about making for the exits until Dodger closer Kenley Jansen finished taking care of business in the ninth. "They didn't come late and leave early tonight," Kershaw almost crowed.

He had a right to crow a little. This time, he didn't have to pitch on short rest. This time, he didn't have a catcher signaling him to throw one down the pipe to a guy who could and did turn it into an ICBM. This time, he wasn't forced to stay beyond his fuel tank capacity because a Dodger bullpen was a squad of arsonists.

This time, Kershaw had all the room on the planet to tell the other guys, "Sorry, wrong number."

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