Five things to know about the Dodgers’ 3-1 Game 1 victory Tuesday:
- Kershaw and Newcombe: Clayton Kershaw struck out 11 and walked none, the first pitcher to strike out as many without walking any since Don Newcombe in Game 1 of the 1949 World Series. That’s fitting in a couple of ways, not so in a couple more. Like Kershaw, Newcombe was a Dodger, and like Kershaw, one with a history of pitching his best in the regular season. Unlike Kershaw, Newcombe’s 11 strikeouts and no walk performance was his first postseason game, and unlike Kershaw, he lost it, 1-0, when the Yankees’ Tommy Henrich homered to lead off the bottom of the ninth (the 1949 Series began with consecutive 1-0 games, Allie Reynolds besting Newcombe and the Dodgers’ Preacher Roe besting Vic Raschi). Unfortunately for Newcombe, his postseason fortune never improved. He was knocked out in the fourth inning of Game 4 in 1949, and the Yankees won the Series in 5; he was in the military and missed the ’52 and ’53 Series, which the Dodgers lost to the Yankees in seven and six games, respectively; he lost the opener of the ’55 Series and wasn’t well enough to pitch again, as Brooklyn won its only Series in 7; and after winning 27 games in 1956 — he was Cy Young winner and MVP — he was knocked out in the second inning of Game 2 and lost the deciding Game 7, 10-0. Like Kershaw, the toll of the regular season — 36 starts and 268 innings in ’56 — apparently wore on him. In three World Series, Newcombe made five starts, won none, lost four and had an 8.59 ERA. But his 1949 Game 1 start was significant for another reason. With it, Newcombe became the first African-American pitcher to start a World Series game (Satchel Paige had relieved in 1948). It would be another three years until an African-American pitcher won a World Series game, when Joe Black, who started twice and relieved 54 times in the 1952 regular season, started and completed Game 1, beating Reynolds, 4-2.
- Bregman homers: Alex Bregman homered off Kershaw, his third of the postseason. His first two were off Chris Sale. Against pitchers this postseason who might be Cy Young Award finalists (Kershaw, Sale, Craig Kimbrel and Kenley Jansen), Bregman is 4-for-10 with three homers. Against everyone else, he’s 5-for-36 with one double.
- Playing Gattis? Joe Buck made mention of the games in Los Angeles not having the designated hitter, and how a team built for a DH is at a disadvantage without one. In the Astros’ case, that’s because there’s no Evan Gattis in the lineup. That’s true if misleading. That Gattis isn’t playing is by the Astros’ own choice. They opted to catch lefty Brian McCann against a lefty pitcher, even though McCann is batting .156 this postseason. There’s no significant platoon splits for either Gattis or McCann, and presumably the Astros caught McCann for his defense. That would make sense, had McCann not allowed 54 steals in 62 attempts this year and accumulated a defensive WAR of -0.6. Gattis wasn’t much better (35-39 stealers successful, 0.0 defensive WAR), but all things being equal, it seems better to go with the platoon advantage and the guy who homered in Game 7 of the ALCS. It doesn’t help that McCann, in 24 games, is a lifetime .171 postseason hitter with a .575 OPS. With another lefty (Rich Hill) pitching for the Dodgers, it should surprise no one if Gattis catches Wednesday.
- The finality of Jansen: Kenley Jansen saved Tuesday’s game on 14 pitches, his ninth inning this postseason without allowing an earned run. His lifetime postseason ERA is 1.84 and in his last 18.2 postseason innings, Jansen hasn’t allowed an earned run and just four hits and five walks while fanning 29. He’s not Mariano Rivera, but he looks a lot like him with his cutter, and with the way he makes the last three outs, supposedly the hardest in any game, seem so easy to get. In 25 lifetime postseason appearances, he’s unscored on in 22 of them, and one of those was an unearned run this year in a 9-5 win. Nothing is sure in baseball, but Jansen with a lead in the ninth seems like it.
- Just getting started: Tuesday’s game was played in two hours and 28 minutes, and ended right about the time a lot of Red Sox-Yankees games were finishing the fifth inning. You have to wonder how many Dodgers fans, trying to be fashionably late, missed most or all of the game. It was the fastest game since Game 4 of the 1992 World Series, when the Jays and Jimmy Key beat the Braves and Tom Glavine, 2-1, in 2:21.
Game 2 preview: Rich Hill started his first postseason game for the Cubs in 2007, then went nine years before his next one for last year’s Dodgers. In between he changed teams 10 times, left the Red Sox three times and signed with them four more, the last after pitching twice for the Long Island Ducks of the Atlantic League (Sean Burroughs was a teammate). In 2014, he and his wife lost an infant son Brooks, who Hill said, “was born with multiple issues that we confronted … Unfortunately he succumbed and he has passed. He taught us a lot of things, and unfortunately things didn’t work out.” Two days ago Mark Feinsand of mlb.com tweeted: Rich Hill put being in the World Series in perspective: “A couple years ago, I was using a bucket in independent ball as a toilet.” That may not be much on the optics, but says a lot for perspective. Though it’s possible Hill could have been talking about his year with the Athletics and not his cameo with the Ducks. Hill is the guy the Dodgers send against Justin Verlander, who perhaps inspired by the president, is on one of the great postseason runs ever. “Verlander is great but very beatable. Does not have a good ERA in playoff games,” Donald Trump tweeted in 2012, and as if taking the criticism to heart, Verlander has been working on self-improvement. Since the 2012 postseason, Verlander has pitched 47.2 postseason innings and allowed eight runs. That’s a 1.51 ERA in playoff games, which were Verlander vindictive, he might point out to the president is pretty good. Surprisingly, Trump has not followed up. Verlander has pitched in four postseason games and won them all, and the Astros need him to win this one. The Yankees might have demonstrated an ability to come back from 2-0, but against a 104-win team in the World Series, it’s not recommended.