LOS ANGELES -- After his third strikeout, George Springer waved his bat in obvious disappointment, lugging the offending lumber back to the visiting dugout. After his fourth, Springer lifted one palm to the sky, mumbling to himself at home plate.
These were atypical images for the Astros, Major League Baseball's toughest team to strike out during the regular season. But World Series Game 1 presented by YouTube TV was atypical for Houston from the opening moments. Astros batters struck out 12 times in their 3-1 loss to the Dodgers, blaming everything from a wide strike zone to their own over-aggressiveness.
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Mostly, they blamed Clayton Kershaw.
"He's going to be in the Hall of Fame and he pitched really well tonight," third baseman Alex Bregman said. "He made some good pitches, made some good marginal pitches that went his way. That's all right. We'll show up ready to go tomorrow."
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Bregman was the only Astros hitter to damage Kershaw, hitting a solo home run against him in the fourth. He was also one of two Houston batters to avoid striking out against Los Angeles' ace. Overall, the Astros simply struggled, seeing just 107 pitches in the game. Ten resulted in swings and misses. Another 27 whizzed across home plate for called strikes.
One of those, Kershaw's second pitch of the game, was a 74-mph curveball that he dropped into the strike zone against Springer. It set the tone for the rest of the night, as Kershaw continually stole strikes with his breaking pitches early in counts.
"This team is a really good-hitting team," Kershaw said. "They hit a lot of homers and don't strike out. There's little room for error. So it's important for me to establish pitches, be able to throw multiple things for strikes, and thankfully, I was able to do that tonight."
That Kershaw dominated was unsurprising to anyone who has seen him pitch before. That he did it against the Astros was a bit more startling, only because of their offensive attributes.
The do-not-check-your-monitors statistic that defined Houston during the regular season was its hitters' ability to combine power and contact. Only the Yankees bashed more home runs than the Astros. Nobody hit for a higher average or reached base at a better clip. Typically, those two things do not go together, but Houston relied on selective aggression to make that blend work.
On Tuesday, the Astros chased 20 pitches outside the strike zone, according to Statcast™ data, and several more on the corners.
"Their guy beat us," Astros manager A.J. Hinch said. "For us, obviously, we need to stay in the strike zone. It's easier said at the podium or sitting in the dugout than in the batter's box. But hopefully we can get it tomorrow."
It helps that Houston will face someone other than Kershaw in Game 2, squaring off against left-hander Rich Hill. But even in dispatching the Yanks in the American League Championship Series presented by Camping World, the Astros struggled offensively, averaging 2.9 runs per game. During the regular season, they averaged 5.5.
For that October trend to dissolve, second baseman Jose Altuve said, "We just have to try to put some good at-bats together. We couldn't do it today because Kershaw was pitching extremely well."
Added Springer: "We've just got to get hits. This is a hard game. This isn't easy. And when you're facing quality pitching, it gets harder. You have to credit them tonight."