The Dodgers more than delivered in their 3-1 victory, riding a vintage Clayton Kershaw and huge homers from Justin Turner and Chris Taylor to a 1-0 lead in the World Series presented by YouTube TV. For a club that hadn't advanced to the Fall Classic in 29 years, it was a perfect performance that went to script. The winner of Game 1 has gone on to win 25 of the past 29 World Series, and 62.5 percent of the Series overall.
Now it's up to the Astros to flip the script, to even this thing up before it heads to Houston. It's time for Justin Verlander to enter the scene and perform his part in the plot as Game 2 awaits tonight.
Opposing Rich Hill, who is bound to follow the breaking-ball-heavy pitch pattern that worked so well for Kershaw in the opener, Verlander has his work cut out for him against a Los Angeles team that has outscored opponents 51-20 while going 8-1 this October. It won't be easy -- the Dodgers are a perfect 5-0 at Dodger Stadium this October. The Astros have yet to win a World Series game in their history (0-5), and they could sure use one here. Teams that go down 0-2 in the Series have come back to win it just 11 times in 54 tries.
"Every game is sort of a must-win," Astros manager A.J. Hinch said. "I wanted to get out of here with a sweep, and now that's not going to happen. So we come back [tonight]. We get prepared to face Hill. Verlander, he's one of our best, if not our best the last couple of months he's been an Astro. So we'll certainly ride him out."
Houston acquired Verlander seconds before the August waiver trade deadline for a moment like this. He has been nails this October, pitching the Astros back from the brink against the Yankees in Game 6 of the American League Championship Series presented by Camping World and going 4-0 with a 1.46 ERA in 24 2/3 innings over four postseason appearances (three starts and one relief outing).
"I think the mental focus is just at another level," Verlander said. "I think it's something that would be easy to say, 'Why don't you just do that every game?' It's unsustainable throughout the course of the regular season. If you were that mentally focused, you'd just burn out. It's just another level. I don't know how to really explain it."
Of course, Verlander will also need help from the bats, which went quiet again against Kershaw after breaking out in those final two home games of the ALCS. Kershaw, Brandon Morrow and Kenley Jansen combined to limit the Astros to just one run (an Alex Bregman solo shot) on three hits with zero walks in Game 1. Uncharacteristically, they struck out a dozen times.
What that means is Hill was given an awfully good game plan to follow. In the aftermath of Game 1, there was some grumbling on the part of the Astros (namely Bregman and Jose Altuve) that Kershaw had gotten some "marginal" (as Bregman put it) strike-zone calls. But the bottom line is Kershaw pounded the zone and kept Houston off balance with the offspeed stuff.
Hill hopes to build off an October in which he's limited the opposition to a .188 average and build off the momentum established by Kershaw's zone-pounding, bat-missing ways. Kershaw threw 83 pitches (57 strikes) in Game 1, including 44 offspeed pitches (32 sliders and 12 curves).
"The way he attacked the strike zone speaks to [Game 2]," Hill said. "I think that's what everybody's going to see out of me is the aggressiveness right out the gate, going right at these guys. That's a good ballclub over there, and, in order to make them swing the bats, you've got to stay aggressive."
As tends to be the case, the curve figures to feature prominently in Hill's mode of attack against the Astros.
"You are in an environment where you have to go with your best pitch," Hill said. "And if your best pitch happens to be a breaking ball, you've got to go with your best, right?"
The Dodgers brought their best to Game 1, continuing their ownership of October. But a 1-0 deficit is not exactly a mental deterrent to an Astros team that already came back from much more daunting developments in the ALCS. There is pressure on Houston to regroup from what Kershaw wrought and even this thing up. The Astros might have been "hit in the mouth," as the whiteboard said, but they've got a pretty good chance to punch back with Verlander on the hill.