Over seven innings, Kershaw allowed three hits, did not walk a batter and racked up 11 strikeouts — the most by one pitcher this season against the Astros, who had the fewest strikeouts of any team during the regular season. Houston’s only run came on a fourth-inning home run by third baseman Alex Bregman, which soared 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. The record temperatures are not expected to abate for Game 2 on Wednesday, when the Dodgers left-hander Rich Hill will face the Astros right-hander Justin Verlander.
If pitchers were forced to work in sauna-like conditions that were far different than the typically frigid World Series games played in the Midwest and Northeast, hitters did not mind.
“We treated it like a summer game in Cincinnati,” Dodgers first baseman Cody Bellinger said. “When it’s hot, the ball flies and we like that.”
The blistering heat, which shattered the previous World Series first-pitch record of 94 degrees set in 2001 in Phoenix when the Yankees played the 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.
“I didn’t overthink it,” said Taylor, who modestly flipped his bat after he made contact. “I was just going up there trying to get the barrel to the ball, thinking about being aggressive, and be ready to hit the first one.”
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 after he reached the warning track and then the wall, he looked up helplessly as it landed in the pavilion.
“I didn’t think it was going out by any means,” Keuchel said. “It wasn’t an easy pitch to hit. I was trying to get in on him and I thought it did. He didn’t square it up by any means.”
Turner acknowledged that he had gotten a helping hand from the weather.
“If it’s 10 degrees cooler, that’s probably a routine fly ball,” Turner said.
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. He had been good but not dominant since his return in early September from a five-week stint on the disabled list with a sore back.
On Tuesday, though, he was at his best, complementing his two best pitches — a fastball and a knee-buckling curve — with a sharp slider.
His fellow Dodgers pitcher Brandon McCarthy said Kershaw had been “close but not all the way there.”
“Tonight,” McCarthy added, “that looked like that was the genuine article.”
Kershaw allowed only three hits — the homer to Bregman, a third-inning single to Josh Reddick and a seventh-inning single to Jose Altuve. And besides the hits, Kershaw allowed just 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.