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Clayton Kershaw cruises, backed by Dodgers bats in World Series opener

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Kershaw whiffed 8, 2nd MLB pitcher to reach 200 postseason strikeouts

World Series - Tampa Bay Rays v Los Angeles Dodgers - Game One Photo by Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images

After an anxious weekend of winning three elimination games in a row to save their season, the Dodgers opened the 2020 World Series with a rarity — a relatively stress-free Clayton Kershaw postseason start.

Kershaw was excellent in his six innings, backed by a relentless Dodgers offense in an 8-3 win over the Rays in Game 1 on Tuesday night at Globe Life Field in Arlington, Texas.

There was still stress, since this was the postseason after all, and this game was scoreless into the fourth inning. In the first inning Kershaw struggled a bit, allowing a single to Yandy Diaz and a walk to the red-hot Randy Arozarena. Just three batters in, the Rays had a scoring chance.

Kershaw got out of the jam, but in his 20-pitch first inning, he only got one swing and miss, on a curveball. His slider wasn’t working too well at that point.

“He said he’d find it, and he did,” catcher Austin Barnes said. “He had a lot of swing and misses with it, and made a lot of big pitches with it. It was that prototypical Kershaw slider.”

It got better.

Kershaw retired the side in the second, third, and fourth innings, retiring 13 straight at one point until Kevin Kiermaier got him for a solo home run. That was the last run, and last hit allowed by Kershaw, who struck out eight. That gave him 201 career postseason strikeouts, passing John Smoltz for second-most in MLB history. Only Justin Verlander (205) has more postseason strikeouts.

Despite the early struggles with the pitch, the slider was Kershaw’s go-to pitch on the night, getting 11 swinging strikes on the pitch and finishing off seven strikeouts with it. Kershaw on the night induced 19 swinging strikes, tied for his third-most in a postseason start and most for him in the World Series.

Tyler Glasnow was nasty as well, with eight strikeouts of his own. But the Dodgers also made him work, to the tune of 56 pitches through three innings. The dividends started coming in the fourth, when Max Muncy walk was followed one out later by another Cody Bellinger home run, showing no ill effects from his celebration-addled shoulder.

The only concession to his shoulder came after the home run, when Bellinger exchanged in a series of toe taps with his teammates, easing the physical burden of elation.

“I said it before the game, if I hit one today, I’m not touching anyone’s arm. I’m going straight foot,” said Bellinger.

The fifth inning was a clinic in the Dodgers grinding opposing pitchers down, and it spelled doom for Glasnow. Mookie Betts walked and stole second, securing free tacos for America. Then a Corey Seager walked and both executed a double steal for the second time this postseason. Betts scored on a fielder’s choice grounder, thanks to a great lead and fantastic slide at home.

That ended Glasnow’s night, but the Dodgers kept cashing in after he left, with RBI singles by Chris Taylor and Kiké Hernandez to extend the lead. The Dodgers made Glasnow throw 112 pitches and drew six walks, flipping the narrative in a Kershaw start with the other starting pitcher getting left in too long and let down by his bullpen.

The fifth inning for the Dodgers featured two walks, three singles, three stolen bases, and four runs. Rays pitchers — Glasnow and Ryan Yarbrough — threw 59 pitches in the frame.

Dodgers batters saw 174 pitches from the Rays in eight innings.

Betts added a home run in the fifth, adding to his busy night. He had two hits, scored twice, stole two bases, and that home run. Betts had the fifth Dodgers game in a World Series with a homer and steal, joining Davey Lopes (twice), Joe Ferguson (!), and Wes Parker. Betts actually had two steals, joining old friend Chase Utley, then with the Phillies in Game 1 in 2008, as the only MLB players with a homer and two steals in a Fall Classic game.

“I did a good job tonight,” said Betts in the understatement of the year. “But my main responsibility is to win a World Series. That’s all I’m trying to do.”

The Dodgers are 9-0 when allowing three or fewer runs this postseason.

Game 1 particulars

Home runs: Cody Bellinger (4), Mookie Betts (1); Kevin Kiermaier (2)

WP — Clayton Kershaw (3-1): 6 IP, 2 hits, 1 run, 1 walk, 8 strikeouts

LP — Tyler Glasnow (2-2): 4⅓ IP, 3 hits, 6 runs, 6 walks, 8 strikeouts

Up next

Game 2 comes Wednesday night (5:08 p.m. PT, Fox), and we know Blake Snell starts for the Rays. The Dodgers said they will start Tony Gonsolin in Game 2, though given that he’s only on two days rest the bullpen figures to be heavily involved.