A lot has happened in between starts by Clayton Kershaw in Houston. Many a redemption was secured last October, the smoothest salve possible for a four-year-old wound that still very clearly stings the Dodgers.
Nothing can ever change the outcome of the 2017 World Series, nor can a single regular season start truly avenge any wrongs. But that doesn’t make Kershaw’s performance on Tuesday night at Minute Maid Park any less sweet. The future Hall of Famer pitched his longest outing of the season in the Dodgers’ 9-2 win over the Astros on Tuesday night, the first of a brief, two-game series in Houston.
Tuesday’s win was the eighth straight for the Dodgers, matching their longest streak of 2021. But some thoughts before the game were of four years ago, when the sign-stealing Astros beat the Dodgers in the Fall Classic.
“I know it’s a while ago, but there’s something weird there. It’s different coming back. You just want to beat those guys,” said Austin Barnes, who caught Kershaw on Tuesday and started all seven games behind the plate during the 2017 World Series. “I don’t know if I’ll ever get over it. I mean, winning helps. Obviously, if we never won a World Series, it would have been pretty hard.
“We could have won two World Series.”
This was Kershaw’s first start in Houston since Game 5 of the 2017 World Series, when he was staked to leads of 4-0 and 7-4 but couldn’t complete the fifth inning, allowing six runs in a game the Dodgers lost in 10 innings. Amid a trash-can-banging scheme that alerted Astros batters, Kershaw on that night threw 51 breaking pitches and got just one swing and miss.
“Any time you lose a World Series, it doesn’t feel good. Then with everything wrapped around it, you don’t really have the closure maybe that you would want,” Kershaw said. “After winning last year, I do think that alleviated some things. For me, it lifted a lot off my shoulders that I had been feeling for a long time.”
On Tuesday, Kershaw got six whiffs on his 50 breaking balls, and finished off all six of his strikeouts with offspeed stuff — four on the slider, and two on the curve. This is nothing new for Kershaw, whose 51 strikeouts on his slider entering Tuesday were the most on any single pitch in the majors this year.
Kershaw didn’t allow a hit until the fourth inning, and didn’t allow a run until Alex Bregman found the Crawford boxes with a solo shot in the seventh. The efficiency allowed Kershaw to pitch into the eighth inning for the first time this season, throwing only 81 pitches in his 7⅔ innings. Kershaw might have pitched even deeper into the game were it not for the exceedingly long top of the eighth, when the Dodgers batted around against three Houston pitchers.
“Obviously the pitch count was low, but the long innings I was really mindful of,” manager Dave Roberts said. “Just knowing he’s going to go Sunday in a day game, so it couldn’t have worked out any better.”
It was Kershaw’s longest outing since pitching eight innings in Game 2 of last year’s wild card series.
The offense came early from a pair of veterans who were integral to each of the Dodgers three World Series trips in the previous four seasons. Justin Turner opened the scoring with a two-run home run in the fourth, the first hit of the game against Zack Greinke.
It snapped a 12-game skid without an extra-base hit for Turner, who had five hits in 45 at-bats during that span.
“Hitting is a trade that nobody will master,” Turner said. “It’s constant adjustments and tinkering, trying to get the right feels until you know you got it. I feel like I’m in a pretty good spot right now.”
Turner also singled in the sixth inning, the first of four straight Dodgers to reach base with two outs, culminating in a two-run single by Chris Taylor, starting in center field just like he did in Game 5 four years ago. Both Taylor and Turner had two hits.
Turner will start at designated hitter on Wednesday.
After Greinke left, the Dodgers poured it on against a shaky Astros bullpen, scoring one run on a wild pitch and three more on back-to-back-to-back bases-loaded walks.
The Dodgers have won all three games in Houston since the Astros’ sign-stealing scheme came to light.
Minute Maid Park, in its first game with no restrictions on capacity in the last two seasons, had 34,443 in attendance for the series opener, many of them Dodgers fans. It was the most fans either the Dodgers or Astros have played in front of in 2021, adding an extra layer to a series already earmarked.
“You know, sports fans — the world doesn’t really appreciate cheating,” Roberts said before the game. “This is going to be highly anticipated by baseball fans, which I really do believe is great for the game. But it’s going to be exponentially crazy once they come to our place, I’m sure.”
The series against the Astros at Dodger Stadium is August 3-4. But there’s one more game in Houston between these two teams first.
Home runs: Justin Turner (8); Alex Bregman (6)
WP — Clayton Kershaw (7-3): 7⅔ IP, 4 hits, 1 run, 6 strikeouts
LP — Zack Greinke (4-2): 6 IP, 3 hits, 4 runs, 3 walks, 5 strikeouts
The Dodgers go for a two-game sweep of the Astros and a ninth straight win on Wednesday (4:40 p.m. PT; SportsNet LA, ESPN). Trevor Bauer starts for Los Angeles, and Luis García starts on the mound for the Astros, not to be confused with Luis Garcia, the infielder recalled from Triple-A by the Nationals on Tuesday.