Nothing could get in the way of the dominant Dodgers in Game 1 of the World Series on Tuesday night at Globe Life Field in Arlington. Their 8-3 victory over the Rays gave them the early leg up in this best-of-seven series and illustrated the urgency that pervades their pursuit of their first Fall Classic title since 1988 after the near-misses of 2017 and ’18.
“We’ve got a lot of guys doing special things right now,” Kershaw said. “It’s just a special team.”
The Rays -- the only team other than the Dodgers to win 40 games in the shortened 60-game season -- have a special group, too. But a Tampa Bay club with an acute ability to eke out close wins with big at-bats and efficient outs simply couldn’t subvert Los Angeles’ stars in this one.
“They had better at-bats than us,” said Kevin Kiermaier, whose fifth-inning solo shot was the Rays’ only run off Kershaw, “and did all the little things right.”
The Dodgers’ Game 1 win was sparked by Bellinger’s two-run blast off Tyler Glasnow in the fourth, just two days after his right shoulder popped out of its socket on an emphatic elbow bump in celebration of his go-ahead homer in the seventh inning of Game 7 of the National League Championship Series.
The win was supported by the Cooperstown-bound but October-tormented Kershaw, who was at his best in six strong innings in which he allowed a Kiermaier solo home run and little else. Kershaw’s velocity was up, his slider was superb and he looked comfortable as could be in his third straight start in his hometown.
Ultimately, though, Game 1 was the Mookie Show.
Betts used it as a platform to remind the world at large what all the fuss was about when the Red Sox controversially dealt him to the Dodgers -- a little more than a year after he helped bring Boston the 2018 title at L.A.’s expense. The Dodgers brought in Betts as the perceived final piece in their bid to atone for seven consecutive empty Octobers.
“We're so lucky to have him on our team,” Bellinger said. “He's a superstar guy, superstar talent, but he does all the little things right. You can really learn from that when a guy's that good and he just wants to win.”
It was Betts’ great glovework that assisted the Dodgers in Games 5-7 of the NLCS win over the Braves. Here in the Fall Classic, he used his legs and lumber, stealing two bags and launching a solo homer.
In the fifth, Betts became the first player since another Boston export -- a fella named Babe Ruth -- to walk and steal two bases in the same inning of a World Series game, keying the four-run frame that broke open the ballgame.
The first of those steals marked the second time in his career that a Betts swipe earned all of America a free taco (he did it in the 2018 World Series, too) -- a grand feat not even the Babe can claim. After a Corey Seager walk, Betts swiped third as part of a double steal. That forced the Rays to draw their infield in. When Max Muncy grounded a ball to first, Betts’ secondary lead was so strong and his feet so fleet that he was able to slide in ahead of Yandy Díaz’s throw home to make it 3-1.
“Once I get on the basepaths, I'm just trying to touch home,” Betts said. “However I get there is how I get there. But I'm going to be aggressive on the basepaths.”
Talented as they are and prepared as they were, the Rays were powerless to stop Betts and the Dodgers. Tampa Bay manager Kevin Cash was uncharacteristically lenient with the leash for his starter, granting Glasnow a season-high 112 pitches, even as he walked six batters.
“The walks are definitely not ideal,” Cash said. “Glas would be the first to recognize that. But we didn’t do a good job of holding the runners on. We can’t let them double-steal right there. Then when they got over to Muncy, we needed a strikeout. There might be nobody better equipped to get a strikeout right there than Glas.”
Glasnow didn’t get the strikeout, and he wasn’t lifted until after the next batter, Will Smith, singled Seager home to make it 4-1. Cash surprisingly turned to Ryan Yarbrough, the Rays’ potential Game 4 starter, and the runs kept coming with well-placed RBI singles from Chris Taylor and Enrique Hernández to push the lead to 6-1.
With Betts adding to his epic performance by taking Josh Fleming deep with a solo shot in the sixth and Muncy adding an RBI double three batters later, the Rays’ two-run seventh was but a mere blip. That comeback attempt ended when Mike Zunino’s scorching liner went straight into the glove of Victor González, who was able to double Mike Brosseau off the second-base bag.
It further confirmed the Dodgers’ ownership of the evening.
“I hit it well,” Zunino said. “After seeing the replay, it was a little more frustrating. It looked like Kiké [Hernández] behind him was breaking the opposite way, and if it gets by [the pitcher], who knows what happens?”
This was just one game, just one win. In World Series history, teams that take a 1-0 lead have a good-but-not-overwhelming conversion rate, winning the Series 62.6% of the time.
Still, the Dodgers -- who had a .717 winning percentage (43-17) in the regular season and avoided elimination with three straight wins to beat the Braves in the NLCS -- so thoroughly commanded this game that the question was understandably asked of Kershaw if there’s any stopping them.
“If we play at our best, no,” Kershaw said. “I think we are the best team. I think our clubhouse believes that. There are going to be certain times we get beat. But as a collective group, if everybody is playing the way they’re supposed to, I don’t see how that can happen.”
It certainly didn’t happen in Game 1.