LOS ANGELES -- In the Twilight Zone of October, the clock turns back at Dodger Stadium.
To the mound, to the moments that defined World Series champions.
Orel Hershiser, steely and standing tall.
Fernando Valenzuela, eyes to the sky.
The great Sandy Koufax, the very picture of pitching.
And that brings us to Game 1 tonight, when the Los Angeles Dodgers host the Houston Astros.
Up on the bump, on baseball's biggest stage, we finally get to see Clayton Kershaw.
About time, right?
Kershaw has done most everything an ace can accomplish -- 3 Cy Young Awards, 5 ERA crowns, 3 strikeout titles, a 7-time All-Star who's also won an MVP trophy and thrown a no-hitter.
Now, against a backdrop of the San Gabriel Mountains, the lefty and his Dodgers make their pitch for the ultimate prize.
"I think that's the final piece for him," Dodgers Manager Dave Roberts said.
Said Kershaw: "Who knows how many times I'm going to get to go to the World Series? I know more than anybody how hard it is to get there. So, I'm definitely not taking this one for granted."
To those Kershaw plays with, he's got nothing left to prove. A model of consistency, the Dodgers see him as money every time he takes the mound.
It seems almost like an insult to many, in fact, to suggest anything otherwise.
Yet there is that one nagging set of stats that can't be overlooked: 6-7 with a 4.40 ERA in the playoffs.
He's not the first superstar to struggle in the postseason: All-Stars Chris Sale, Corey Kluber and Max Scherzer all got banged around this month.
Hall of Famers Greg Maddux, Randy Johnson and Tom Glavine, for all of their many accolades, each had losing records in the postseason. Those guys also helped pitch their teams to championships.
"You remember watching. You remember who went to the World Series," Kershaw said.
Kershaw has excelled at times in October.
He hung tough in Washington last season in the deciding Game 5 of the NL Division Series, earning his only big league save.
He threw six sharp innings last week in the clincher at Wrigley Field to dethrone the Cubs in the NL Championship Series. That made him 2-0 with a 3.63 ERA in three postseason starts this year, although he was tagged for four home runs in a victory over Arizona.
But a truly signature moment, that's still missing. His opponent in the World Series opener, Astros lefty Dallas Keuchel, already has a couple.
Keuchel won the AL wild-card game at Yankee Stadium two years ago with six shutout innings. He won the opener of this year's ALCS, tossing seven brilliant innings vs. the visiting Yankees.
Kershaw, as always, is eager to get going.
"There's always butterflies," he said before Monday's workout at Dodger Stadium. "I think this time is when the butterflies and anxiousness is more so. Once you throw the first pitch it all goes away, at least for me."
As for soaking in the atmosphere, that's not his style. Not right now.
"I think I'm just going to try to win and I'll let it sink all in when we win. And if we don't do that, I'll let it sink in when we lose," he said.
Kershaw is 3-2 against the Astros, dating to when they were a National League team. Houston star Jose Altuve is 6 for 15 lifetime off a pitcher known for his sharp slider and pinpoint fastball.
"He's got every weapon you would fear," Astros Manager A.J. Hinch said. "He's got some hardware on his shelf at home."
Kershaw, 29, could almost walk away after this Series and head straight to Cooperstown. He's 144-64 with a 2.36 ERA overall after going 18-4 with a 2.31 ERA this year.
"All the individual stuff is great, but at the end of the day I just want to win a World Series," he said last week, adding with a smile, "If we win, I might retire, so I might just call it a career."
Houston Astros left-hander Dallas Keuchel (Arkansas Razorbacks) already has two signature postseason performances in his career, winning the AL wild-card game two years ago and shutting down the New York Yankees in the ALCS opener.
Astros Manager A.J. Hinch has lots of respect for Dodgers Game 1 starter Clayton Kershaw, who has a career 2.36 earned-run average.
Dodgers Manager Dave Roberts has piloted his team, with a deep and talented pitching staff, to its first World Series since 1988.
(All times Central, Fox) Game 1 today, at Los Angeles, 7:09 p.m. Game 2 Wednesday, at Los Angeles, 7:09 p.m. Game 3 Friday, at Houston, 7:09 p.m. Game 4 Saturday, at Houston, 7:09 p.m. IF NECESSARY Game 5 Sunday, at Houston, 7:16 p.m. Game 6 Tuesday, Oct. 31, at Los Angeles, 7:09 p.m. Game 7 Wednesday, Nov. 1, at Los Angeles, 7:10 p.m. SEASON SERIES
Teams didn’t meet in 2017.
Astros (101-61 regular season) PS. PLAYER KEY STATISTICS CF George Springer .283, 34 HRs, 85 RBI 3B Alex Bregman .284, 19, 71, 39 2Bs 2B Jose Altuve .346, 24, 81, 39 2Bs, 32 SBs, 204 hits SS Carlos Correa .315, 24, 84, 25 2Bs 1B Yuli Gurriel .299, 18, 75, 43 2Bs C Brian McCann .241, 18, 62 LF Marwin Gonzalez .303, 23, 90, 34 2Bs RF Josh Reddick .314, 13, 82, 34 2Bs Dodgers (104-58 regular season) POS. PLAYER KEY STATS CF Chris Taylor .288, 21, 72, 17 SBs SS Corey Seager .295, 22, 77 3B Justin Turner .322, 21, 71, 56 Ks, 59 BBs 1B Cody Bellinger .267, 39, 97 RF Yasiel Puig .263, 28, 74, 15 SBs 2B Logan Forsythe .224, 6, 36 2B Chase Utley .236, 8, 34 C Austin Barnes .289, 8, 38 LF Enrique Hernandez .215, 11, 37 * Forsythe and Utley are likely to platoon
ASTROS PROJECTED STARTERS
LH Dallas Keuchel RH Justin Verlander RH Charlie Morton RH Lance McCullers Jr.
14-5, 2.90 ERA 15-8, 3.36 (Det.); 5-0, 1.06 (Hou.) 14-7, 3.62 7-4, 4.25
PITCHER KEY STATISTICS
RH Ken Giles 1-3, 2.30, 34-38 saves RH Chris Devenski 8-5, 2.68 RH Joe Musgrove 7-8, 4.77 RH Will Harris 3-2, 2.98 LH Francisco Liriano 6-7, 5.66* RH Luke Gregerson 2-3, 4.57 RH Brad Peacock 13-2, 3.00 * Played with Blue Jays, Astros
DODGERS PROJECTED STARTERS
PITCHER KEY STATISTICS
LH Clayton Kershaw 18-4, 2.31, 202 Ks, 30 BBs, 23 HRs LH Rich Hill 12-8, 3.32, 166 Ks, 135 2/3 IP RH Yu Darvish* 10-12, 3.86, 209 Ks, 27 HRs LH Alex Wood 16-3, 2.72 in 27 games, 25 starts * Made starts with Texas and Los Angeles
PITCHER KEY STATISTICS
RH Kenley Jansen 5-0, 1.32, 41/42 saves RH Josh Fields 5-0, 2.84, 2 saves LH Tony Cingrani* 0-0, 4.22, 52 Ks, 12 BBs RH Brandon Morrow 6-0, 2.06, 2 saves LH Tony Watson 7-4, 3.38, 10 saves RH Pedro Baez 3-6, 2.95 RH Ross Stripling 3-5, 3.75, 2 saves RH Kenta Maeda 13-6, 4.22, 1 save, 25 starts LH Luis Avilan 2-3, 2.93, 61 games * 47 games with Reds and Dodgers; 2.79 in 22 games with Dodgers 71 games with Pirates and Dodgers; 2-1, 2.70 in 24 games with Dodgers
They last met in 2015, when Houston swept a three-game series at home.
Verlander beat the Dodgers in late August with eight dominant innings for Detroit, shortly before being traded to Houston.
Darvish is 5-5 lifetime vs. the Astros, including 1-1 this year before Texas sent him to the Dodgers.
Reddick spent the final two months with the Dodgers last year after being traded from Oakland.
It’s supposed to be over 100 degrees in Los Angeles today, and this could be the hottest World Series game ever.
This marks the first pairing of 100-win teams in the World Series since Baltimore and Cincinnati in 1970. The Dodgers romped to a 7-1 record in this postseason; the Astros were 7-4 overall in the play0ffs, 6-0 at Minute Maid Park.
Teams from Texas have won most every major sports championship — Super Bowl, NBA and NHL crowns, college football titles, men’s and women’s college basketball champs — except the World Series. The Rangers were one strike away in 2011 before losing to St. Louis.
They’ve never even won a Series game, getting swept by the White Sox in 2005 in their only previous appearance.
Manager A.J. Hinch’s team beat the Yankees 4-0 in Game 7 of the ALCS behind Morton and McCullers. The home team won every game of that matchup.
Houston led the majors in scoring this season while taking the AL West with 101 victories, then bounced Boston in the AL Division Series.
Verlander is 4-0 with a 1.46 ERA this postseason. He’s 9-0 since joining the Astros.
Altuve (.400, 5 homers), Gurriel (.366) and Correa (9 RBI) did well in the playoffs. Bregman, Reddick, Gonzalez, McCann and Carlos Beltran all hit under .200. Beltran, hoping for his first World Series ring, could be the DH when the site shifts to Houston for Game 3.
Making their first World Series appearance since 1988, when Kirk Gibson, Orel Hershiser and Tommy Lasorda helped LA beat Oakland.
Manager Dave Roberts’ team led the majors with 104 victories, swept Arizona in the NLDS and quickly dethroned the champion Cubs in the NLCS.
Turner (.387, 12 RBI), Puig (.414) and Hernandez (3 HRs in NLCS clincher) are doing well this postseason.
Seager is expected back in the lineup after missing the NLCS because of a back injury. Charlie Culberson and Taylor filled in well. Depending on how he’s moving, Seager could be the Dodgers’ DH in Houston.
Dodgers relievers, led by closer Jansen, have thrown 23 consecutive scoreless innings in the postseason, dating to Game 2 against Arizona.
Have won the NL West five years in a row.
Have had the biggest payroll in the majors for four consecutive seasons.
Kershaw is 6-7 with a 4.40 ERA in 21 postseason games. He’s gone 2-0 this October. We’ll see whether the lefty ace with 3 Cy Young Awards, 5 ERA crowns and 7 All-Star selections can deliver a command performance.
DID YOU KNOW?
The Arkansas Razorbacks are represented on both sides; Keuchel (Astros) played for the Razorbacks (2007-2009); and Forsythe (Dodgers) played for Arkansas (2006-2008).
Sports on 10/24/2017
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