By Arnie Leshin
Shame on those who check out Clayton Kershaw in the postseason and, with his below .500 record, do not consider him a future baseball Hall of Famer.
That’s like saying second base Hall of Famer Joe Morgan, who recently passed away, had a lifetime batting average of .271 and didn’t deserve the honor. Label that dumb and dumber.
And the 32-year-old southpaw Kershaw is now at .500 in the postseason after returning to form and disposing of the Tampa Bay Rays, 8-3, in six innings of game one of the World Series played at Globe Life Field in Arlington, Texas, sparkling new $1.2 billion dollar home of the Texas Rangers, who did not make the playoffs. That’s also where the top-seeded Los Angeles Dodgers, with the best record in the shortened Major League Baseball season, won the National League Championship Series over the 2nd-seeded Atlanta Braves
And that’s where Kershaw and company remained to face the National League champion Tampa Bay Rays, who eliminated the 6th-seeded Houston Astros in seven games at Petco Park in San DIego, and then packed up to play in the Lone Star State for this first-ever neutral site in World Series history.
The Dodgers, though, do not side with the no-way Kershaw disputers and fortunately were happy to start him in game one Tuesday night, and before a limited coronavirus pandemic turnout of 11,388, he turned it up. Now at 12-12 in the postseason, the three-time Cy Young Award winner, a five-time earned run average champion, also improved to 2-2 in the World Series, and is now 175-76 over his stellar career.
Here, he looked like the ace who so often stars on midsummer nights with the San Gabriel Mountains behind him at Dodger
Stadium and got the victory before the smallest crowd for baseball’s top event in 111 years.
He allowed one run and two hits, half of which came on a solo home run in the fifth inning by Kevin Kiermeier to trim the Rays’ deficit to 2-1 and end Kershaw’s streak of 13 retired in a row. Hurling not far from his offseason home in Dallas, he struck out eight and walked one. He induced 19 swings and misses among his 78 pitches, which were more than his three previous World Series starts. In the first inning, he threw nine balls when he stranded a pair of runners, then threw just nine more over the next four frames.
He was backed by the latest hit parade turned in by Los Angeles, with Cody Bellinger, the hero who clouted the solo game-winning home run in the seventh inning of game seven of the Championship Series, hitting another four-bagger along with Mookie Betts, who had been played remarkable defense day in and day out, which is what the playoffs included for the first time, but for the biggest National Pastime event, there are two, if necessary off days.
Said Tampa Bay manager Kevin Cash: “You can appreciate and totally see why he’s headed to the Hall of Fame one day whenever he’s done.”
Bellinger, the 2009 National League MVP who began the opener with a career .114 batting average in 13 World Series games, had put his team ahead in the fourth frame with a two-run shot off of Tampa Bay starter Tyler Glasnow, driving a 98 mph pitch in the LA bullpen in right-center as tall Glasnow turned around to watch. Then Bellinger capped his night by leaping at the 6-foot centerfield fence wall in the ninth, robbing Austin Meadows of a possible home run.
Betts, brilliant and exciting in the field but slumping at the plate, added his initial home run of the playoff, a solo clout in the sixth off of Josh Fleming. He also contributed two more hits, scored two runs, and stole two bases in the four-run fifth, the first to swipe three bases in a Series inning since the 1912 New York Giants in game 5 against the Boston Red Sox. After helping Boston defeat the Dodgers in the 2018 World Series, Betts was traded to Los Angeles before this season and signed a 9-year-old contract.
Can’t forget a dazzling play turned in by Dodgers reliever Victor Gonzales in the seventh when, with one down and two on and the 7-1 Los Angeles lead threatened. Lefthander Gonzales, on a 2-1 pitch, whirled around to hold onto a bullet-like line drive, then turned, waited for shortstop Corey Seager to get to second base, then fired a strike that Seager caught and hurried to first to complete the double play as Gonzalez celebrated upon leaving the hill.
Glasnow was taken out in the fifth after trailing 4-1. He threw a career-high 112 pitches and became the first to walk six or more in a series game since Edwin Jackson of St. Louis did in game 4 of 2001. Glasnow went to three-ball counts on 12 of 23 batters.
Tampa Bay has never won a World Series, making it for the first time and only time in 2008 and losing to the Philadelphia Phillies in five games. LA last won the World Series in 1988 over the Oakland Athletics behind the long ball heroics of Kirk Gibson and the pitching of Orel Hershiser after going seven to oust the New York Mets on the big blow by pinch-hitter Gibson against Dwight (Doc) Gooden. They also won in 1981 in six games over the New York Yankees after losing the first two games.