Sometimes in the postseason, unheralded contributors rise to the occasion and etch their names in October lore.
Other times, the best players are, well, the best players.
Game 1 of the World Series fell squarely into the latter category as the Los Angeles Dodgers rode a stellar effort by ace Clayton Kershaw and an offensive attack fronted by Mookie Betts and Cody Bellinger to an 8-3 statement win over the Tampa Bay Rays.
The series is far from over. But fresh off their thrilling seven-game National League Championship Series triumph against Atlanta, the Dodgers kept the momentum going thanks to the biggest, most potentially lethal advantage they hold over Tampa Bay: star power.
Notable Players of the Game
For Los Angeles:
- LHP Clayton Kershaw: 6 IP, 2 H, 1 ER, 1 BB, 8 SO. Kershaw entered Game 1 with a 4.31 career postseason ERA and the narrative about his October inconsistency alive and well. He didn't silence all doubters with his performance, but he certainly quieted them with six strong innings that set the tone for L.A.
- CF Cody Bellinger: 1-for-4, 2 RBI, 1 HR. Bellinger showed no ill effects from the dislocated right shoulder he suffered during a home run celebration Sunday in Game 7 of the NLCS. The Dodgers center fielder swatted a two-run homer in the bottom of the fourth that got the scoring started for Los Angeles.
- RF Mookie Betts: 2-for-4, 2 R, 1 RBI, 2 SB. Betts showed off his full assortment of top-shelf offensive tools as he stole two bases, hustled home from third on a ground ball with the infield drawn in and hit his first home run of the 2020 postseason.
For Tampa Bay:
- RHP Tyler Glasnow: 4.1 IP, 3 H, 6 ER, 6 BB, 8 SO. Glasnow flashed the triple-digit heat that makes him an emerging ace. But the 27-year-old was undone by wonky command in his World Series debut as he issued six walks and couldn't make it out of the fifth inning.
- CF Kevin Kiermaier: 2-for-3, 2 RBI, 1 HR. Kiermaier hit .217 during the regular season and was 7-for-36 in the first three rounds of the playoffs. But the veteran center fielder was Tampa Bay's offensive standout in Game 1 with a solo home run and two of the Rays' three runs batted in.
- 2B Brandon Lowe: 0-for-4, 1 SO. A key cog in Tampa Bay's offense during the regular season, Lowe continued his October struggles by going hitless in Game 1 and is now 6-for-56 this postseason with 19 strikeouts.
Differing Levels of Star Power
The Dodgers cruised to the best record in baseball during the regular season thanks to a deep roster. But they also leaned on their stars.
In his first season with Los Angeles, Betts hit 16 homers with 10 stolen bases and a .927 OPS in 55 games. Kershaw, while no longer the most dominant pitcher in baseball, posted a 2.16 ERA with 62 strikeouts in 58.1 innings. Bellinger, the 2019 NL MVP, hit just .239 but swatted 12 home runs in 56 games.
There are plenty of other contributors in L.A.'s lineup and pitching staff. But it always felt like the surest way for this organization to get over the championship hump was for its highest-profile players to shine.
That's exactly what happened Tuesday in Arlington. Betts and Bellinger went deep, and the former created havoc on the bases with his speed, instincts and all-around acumen.
Kershaw, meanwhile, threw six strong innings and moved into second place on the all-time postseason strikeout list with 201. Assuming he gets another start in this Fall Classic, he'll almost surely pass Justin Verlander's mark of 205.
Some will still question Kershaw's October mettle, but they aren't piping up at the moment.
The Rays simply didn't have an answer. Tampa Bay finished with the best record in the Junior Circuit thanks to superb pitching and defense, and it won the pennant with that same formula while also leading all postseason clubs with 25 homers through the first three rounds.
But the AL representatives are a small-market squad with a roster devoid of household names. That doesn't mean they can't defeat richer, glitzier opponents, which they proved in their satisfying five-game division series win over the rival New York Yankees.
But in Game 1, at least, the contrast was stark. The Dodgers turned to their stars, both on the mound and in the batter's box, and their stars delivered. This is what they envisioned when they signed Betts to a 12-year, $365 million extension in July after acquiring him from the Boston Red Sox in February.
"I'm here to win some rings and bring rings back to L.A.—that's all I'm focused on," Betts told reporters at the time.
Now, he and Los Angeles are three wins away from accomplishing that goal and ending the constant mentions of 1988—the last year L.A. hoisted a Commissioner's Trophy.
Expect the Rays to answer. They showed their resiliency against New York and in a seven-game battle with the Houston Astros, against whom they lost three straight after taking a 3-0 series lead in the ALCS, only to gut out a win in Game 7.
After losing two of the last three World Series, the Dodgers know better than anyone that no hardware is awarded until it's over. But they sent a loud and clear message in Game 1.
And, perhaps most importantly, they let their best players deliver it.
Where the World Series Stands
- The Dodgers lead the series 1-0. Game 2 is scheduled for 8:08 p.m. ET on Wednesday from Globe Life Field in Arlington.
- Left-hander Blake Snell is slated to start Game 2 for Tampa Bay. Snell is 2-2 this postseason with a 3.20 ERA and 19 strikeouts in 19.2 innings. The Dodgers have not announced a Game 2 starter but are planning to utilize a committee approach with lefty Julio Urias and righties Dustin May and Tony Gonsolin all potentially in the mix.
- Game 2 will be a home game for Los Angeles, followed by an off day Thursday.
All statistics courtesy of MLB.com.