LOS ANGELES -- While the Dodgers made their postseason push last October, Chris Taylor, acquired by the club in a trade four months earlier, found himself tucked away at the organization's Arizona complex. A stalled Major League career had led him back to instructional league, a place where he knew it was time to reinvent his swing.
The work he did then became a springboard for where Taylor is now, serving as an offensive catalyst for a Dodgers team that sits three wins away from notching the franchise's first World Series championship since 1988.
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On a night when Clayton Kershaw dazzled and Justin Turner once again shined, it was Taylor who provided the spark in a 3-1 victory over the Astros in Game 1 of the World Series presented by YouTube TV.
"It's something I tell him every day: You go, we go," said teammate Enrique Hernandez, borrowing a line the Cubs made famous in their World Series run last year. "Sneakily under the radar, he's been one of our most valuable players."
Taylor's time under the radar is abruptly coming to an end, given the stage on which he's now thriving. He captured co-MVP honors in the National League Championship Series presented by Camping World, and then opened Tuesday's Game 1 with a 447-foot blast off Astros starter Dallas Keuchel.
From there, the Dodgers never trailed.
"We knew he liked to get ahead early," Taylor said of Keuchel, who had not allowed a leadoff homer since July 2012. "I just wanted to go up there and be aggressive and try to jump on that first-pitch strike."
The homer ignited an early-arriving sellout crowd at Dodger Stadium and put Taylor in select company. He joined Don Buford (1969), Dustin Pedroia (2007) and Alcides Escobar ('15) as the only players to connect for a leadoff homer in Game 1 of a World Series.
Escobar's inside-the-park home run two Octobers ago was the only previous World Series Game 1 leadoff homer to come on the first pitch, as Taylor's also did. The Dodgers' only other leadoff homer in the World Series came in Game 6 of the 1978 Fall Classic, when Davey Lopes took Catfish Hunter deep.
"He can grind you for 10 pitches in an at-bat. He can earn a walk. He can slug you. He can steal a base," said Dodgers manager Dave Roberts, who permanently bumped Taylor into the leadoff spot in the waning days of July. "He's one of the guys that gets overlooked with all the superstars we have on this team. But he's a big part of this."
A player who entered the year with one home run in 318 career Major League plate appearances now has three in 35 postseason at-bats. That follows a breakthrough regular season in which Taylor slugged .496 and elbowed his way into an everyday role.
"I never could have predicted this," Taylor said. "The goal coming into this year was to hit for more power and get the ball in the air, but I didn't think it would be this drastic of an improvement."
At 447 feet, Taylor's homer was the sixth-longest postseason dinger tracked by Statcast™, and second-longest this postseason behind only Willson Contreras' 491-foot blast in Game 4 of the NLCS. Taylor, who hit two home runs in the NLCS, now has the second- and third-longest (444 feet) homers of this postseason.
"He's matured a ton," said Astros manager A.J. Hinch, who had watched Taylor up close during the outfielder's tenure with the Mariners. "That's some of the fastest bat speed you'll see in the big leagues. He's proven to be even more dangerous than obviously he was as a young player."
Taylor's impact wasn't, however, limited to one swing in one at-bat. With Keuchel crusing, Taylor interrupted his rhythm by drawing a two-out walk in the sixth. Four pitches later, Turner deposited a tie-breaking homer just over the left-field wall.
Taylor trotted home, scoring his team-high ninth run of the postseason.
"Again, he's the spark plug," Turner said. "When he goes, we go. When he gets on base, we're a lot better offense. It just goes to show you how complete of a player he is and how lucky we are to have him in our lineup.
"He's been so much fun to hit behind, and [we're] watching him become a star, really, on this team."