LOS ANGELES — Baseball’s postseason is a time of resetting in that everyone begins at 0-0. Still, each team brings with it the baggage of the regular season, the sixth-month slog during which narratives are constructed.
The Los Angeles Dodgers got a good start on a fresh fall tale Friday, riding a Justin Turner-led four-run first inning to back Clayton Kershaw in his mixed-bag of an outing. The Dodgers beat the Arizona
9-5 to grab a 1-0 lead in their National League Division Series matchup and snap a six-game losing streak to the Diamondbacks.
“You couldn’t ask for a better start to the game,” Kershaw said. “I think we really had quality at-bats the whole night all the way through.”
For three mysterious weeks this season, everyone in the baseball universe puzzled over the struggles of the seemingly invincible Dodgers. You remember them: The team that raced to a 91-36 record, stepping on everyone’s throat on a nightly basis and not letting up.
Justin Turner tied a Dodgers postseason record with his five RBIs in Game 1. Maxx Wolfson/Getty Images
The team of historic dominance then went missing during a skid of 16 losses in 17 games.
In search of their first title since 1988, the Dodgers entered the postseason as rickety as a 104-win team could possibly be. Down what path would their October narrative lead: that of the dominant Dodgers, or that of doubtable Dodgers?
Score one for a little of both.
“The first game is big,” Turner said. “Every game is big. You want to win them all, but when you’ve got Keshaw on the mound in Game 1, to get that out of the way, we’re feeling pretty good about it. But we’ve still got a long way to go.”
The Dodgers put the first five batters on base against a Diamondbacks starter, Taijuan Walker, making his first postseason appearance. That rally included a three-run jolt to left from Turner, sending jam-packed Dodger Stadium into a frenzy. It also included an RBI double to emotional powder keg Yasiel Puig.
2017 MLB Postseason
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Puig later tripled, then wagged his tongue toward the celebrating Dodgers dugout, a gesture he demonstrated for the postgame media gathering.
“I don’t know why,” Puig said. “Maybe ice cream in front of me. [Turner] like it. That’s the reason he’s laughing right now.”
Puig then turned to Turner and demonstrated the tongue wag again.
Walker finished the first frame with 48 pitches and was replaced by Zack Godley before the start of the second. Add another name to baseball’s growing list of successful regular-season starters who have been knocked out early during the first week of the 2017 postseason — eight of 16 so far haven’t made it to the fifth inning.
“They hit a couple of mistakes and unfortunately [Walker] never got grounded,” Arizona manager Torey Lovullo said. “Made the decision to take him out after the first inning.
“With 48 pitches in one inning, that’s a lot for any pitcher to absorb.”
The quick lead and the solid run prevention to protect it was reminiscent of the Dodgers team that went 56-11 over one stretch of the season. At times it did look dominant, mostly because Kershaw looked a bit more like his All-Star self than the version that returned from the disabled list late in the season.
Kershaw entered the game with his 4.55 career playoff ERA hanging over his head and for a brief moment, that history stirred when he walked David Peralta to start the game. But he escaped that inning by striking out Diamondbacks sluggers Paul Goldschmidt and J.D. Martinez.
Kershaw mostly cruised through six innings, giving up a solo homers to A.J. Pollock in the third and Martinez in the sixth. He came out for the seventh despite a career 23.82 postseason ERA in that frame. Sure enough, he gave up back-to-back rockets into the left-field seats to Adam Rosales and Ketel Marte.
Turner said he thought his All-Star teammate was sharp.
“When you have a lead like that, it’s about attacking guys, not giving up free bases and pounding the zone,” Turner said. “I thought he was spectacular for us tonight.”
The back-to-back shots marked the end for Kershaw — 6 1/3 innings, seven strikeouts, five hits allowed, but four of those were long balls and he walked three. Let’s face it, it wasn’t bad, especially given the sudden plague that has struck top-flight starters in recent days, but it wasn’t elite-level Kershaw, either. He admitted that by the time he departed, he was gassed.
“Definitely the intensity of playoff games, there is more riding on each pitch,” Kershaw said. “Mentally, for sure, you try to focus that much harder every single pitch and try to take over that moment every single time. That can be taxing, for sure.”
There were good portents for the Dodgers elsewhere. Some of those appeared in the fourth, when Corey Seager’s RBI single and another RBI from Turner keyed a three-run rally against Godley that broke open the game. Seager also walked and tripled, so that’s two more Dodgers stars who faded a bit late but now look poised for an October push.
Turner’s five RBIs tied the Dodgers’ postseason record, set by Davey Lopes in the 1978 World Series and tied three years later by Pedro Guerrero in that season’s Fall Classic. Turner has reached base safely in 16 of his last 17 postseason games, hitting .397 during that stretch.
“He’s just got an easy approach,” Lovullo said. “He’s never off balance, rarely fooled. To me, it’s like he’s taking batting practice.
“There is not hustle in his swing.”
For L.A., it was just the first step but given Arizona’s regular-season record against them (11-8) and the late-season surge of the Diamondbacks’ starting rotation, the Snakes entered the series as a trendy upset pick. A Game 1 loss would surely have spurred the Cassandras of the L.A. baseball world to scream in unison.
Those doomsdayers will have to wait another day. But the Diamondbacks remain capable of striking back, and in Saturday’s Game 2, they’ll send Dodger killer Robbie Ray to the mound.
“He’s a heck of a pitcher,” Roberts said. “He’s one of the elite pitcher in the National League. I think if he makes a mistake, we’ve got to be able to capitalize.”
Right. Because in October, dominance only lasts as long as your last game.