2017-10-25 00:38:03
Dodgers 3, Astros 1 | Los Angeles leads series, 1-0: Clayton Kershaw’s Arm Carries Dodgers Over Astros in Game 1

00:38, October 25 184 0

LOS ANGELES — Houston Astros starter Dallas Keuchel, who grew up in sweltering Oklahoma summers, said this week that the prospect of pitching in extreme heat did not faze him, that he liked breaking a good sweat. He laughed off the suggestion that he might want to shave his bushy beard to stay cool.

Keuchel might have reconsidered on Tuesday night when the scorching 103-degree temperature — a record for a World Series game — greeted the start of Game 1 and thinned the usually thick marine air that rolls into Chavez Ravine in the evening.

He would have appreciated a little more resistance when the Los Angeles Dodgers’ Justin Turner lofted a high fly ball to left field that drifted through the sizzling air and into the left-field pavilion for a two-run homer that lifted the Dodgers to a 3-1 victory over the Astros.

It was one of two mistakes that cost Keuchel — the other came on his first pitch of the night, which was blasted for a home run by leadoff hitter Chris Taylor.

“I’m sure it carried it a couple more feet,” Keuchel said of the weather’s effect on Turner’s homer. “Maybe it’s at the wall. That’s a good piece of hitting.”

The two long balls were enough to doom the Astros on a night when their offense, the most prolific in baseball during the regular season, was shackled by the Dodgers ace Clayton Kershaw.

Kershaw allowed three hits, did not walk a batter and struck out 11 in seven innings. The Astros’ only run came on a fourth-inning home run by third baseman Alex Bregman, which soared deep into the left-field seats.

When Kershaw was done, Brandon Morrow retired the Astros in order in the eighth inning, and closer Kenley Jansen did the same in the ninth as the Dodgers seized a one-game-to-none lead in the Series. Game 2 is scheduled for Wednesday in Los Angeles.

The blistering heat, which shattered the previous World Series first-pitch record of 94 degrees set in 2001 in Phoenix when the Yankees played Arizona Diamondbacks, did not dim the enthusiasm of the crowd, which relished the Dodgers’ first World Series appearance in 29 years.

The visitors from Houston were relative newcomers to this stage, too. The Astros had been here only once before, in 2005, and they had the worst record in baseball as recently as 2013.

To get to this Series, both franchises leaned heavily on analytics. The heads of baseball operations for each team — the Dodgers’ Andrew Friedman and the Astros’ Jeff Luhnow — had worked in the business world and arrived from other organizations where they had success through extensive use of data. Friedman constructed a perennial contender that reached the World Series as the general manager of the Tampa Bay Rays despite having one of baseball’s smallest payrolls, while Luhnow helped feed talent to World Series teams as the St. Louis Cardinals’ head of scouting and player development.

After Luhnow was hired by the Astros after the 2011 season, the team endured several losing seasons to secure high draft picks to complement some of the young talent in the system, and it continued to make shrewd trades and free-agent signings. Friedman, who was hired after the 2014 season, took over a team that had won back-to-back division titles but had bigger ambitions under the Guggenheim Group, which had purchased the team for a record $2 billion two years earlier.

While Friedman set about drastically turning over the roster, the Dodgers continued to win. Only five players — Turner, Kershaw, Jansen, and outfielders Yasiel Puig and Andrew Ethier — were on the major-league roster when Friedman arrived. The Dodgers now boast what is arguably the most versatile roster in baseball, allowing them to pick favorable matchups at their will.

One of Friedman’s most valuable finds has been Taylor, the utility player he plucked from the Seattle Mariners, who has reconfigured his swing and become a vital spark for the Dodgers’ offense, hitting 21 home runs in the regular season while playing center field and shortstop.

Taylor’s home run, his third of the postseason, was the fourth leadoff homer in a World Series, the most recent one being Alcides Escobar’s inside-the-park home run for the Kansas City Royals two years ago against the Mets.

Dodgers Manager Dave Roberts hoped the weather would help his hitters if they could get the ball up in the air against Keuchel. But he conceded before the game it would be a difficult chore against a pitcher whose late movement and pinpoint control had allowed him to have the lowest ground ball-to-fly ball rate (2.12) among starting American League pitchers.

“It just comes down to discipline, trying to get a ball up, out, over – use the big part of the field like everyone talks about,” Roberts said. “Light air today, it’s going to be hot, so I think for us to try to get underneath it and try to put the ball in the air. With him obviously, it’s a tall task.”

If Keuchel, who had not allowed a leadoff home run in more than five years, was stunned by Taylor’s thunderbolt, he did not come unglued. He allowed only four more hits — two singles to Corey Seager and one each to Enrique Hernandez and Austin Barnes — and all but one were erased by a double play.

But Keuchel did appear to be spooked by Taylor, who lined into a double play in his second at-bat and walked on five pitches with two out in the sixth. That brought up Turner, whose bushy, unkempt red beard, matches Keuchel’s distinctive facial hair that runs to the collar of his jersey.

Keuchel worked the count to 1-2 and came inside with a cut fastball that was belt-high. Turner pulled his hands in and lifted a high fly ball to left field. Astros outfielder Marwin Gonzalez drifted back on the ball as if he had a play on it, but he reached the warning track and then the wall and looked up helplessly as it landed in the pavilion.

“We treated it like a summer game in Cincinnati,” said Dodgers first baseman Cody Bellinger. "When it’s hot, the ball flies and we like that.”

The home run upped Turner’s career postseason R.B.I. total to 26, tying the franchise record set by Duke Snider. Fourteen of those have come this season for Turner, the former Mets castoff.

The two home runs were enough for Kershaw, who has won three Cy Young Awards but has had a spotty October résumé. On Tuesday, though, he was at his best. Kershaw allowed only three hits – the homer to Bregman, a third-inning single to Josh Reddick and a seventh-inning single to Jose Altuve. Besides the hits, Kershaw allowed only three balls to be hit out of the infield.

On a night when the air was as thin as it was hot, that proved to be the difference.