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Should World Series winner receive an asterisk?
SportsPulse: With a shortened season and an unconventional playoff structure, should the Rays or Dodgers get an asterisk in the record books if they win the World Series?
ARLINGTON, Texas — Clayton Kershaw chased away his October ghosts Tuesday night, almost sneering at them as they disappeared into the Texas night.
Mookie Betts showed why he may be the greatest $365 million bargain in baseball history, doing anything and everything, and carving his name in the World Series record books.
Cody Bellinger, who dislocated his shoulder two days ago, homered at the plate, made a spectacular catch in center field, and invented a new way to celebrate.
And the Los Angeles Dodgers, rollicked, laughed and danced all night, routing the Tampa Bay Rays, 8-3, in Game 1 of the World Series in front of a subdued, and social-distancing crowd of 11,388 at Globe Life Field.
It was the smallest crowd at a World Series game since Game 6 of the 1909 World Series between the Pittsburgh Pirates and Detroit Tigers, with Honus Wagner and Ty Cobb as the featured stars.
It may have not sounded like the usual 56,000 screaming fans at Dodger Stadium, but with their all-round performance this night, you could almost hear them all the way from Los Angeles, believing this is finally the year their World Series drought ends.
Can they possibly be beat?
“If we play at our best, no,’’ Kershaw flatly said. “I think we are the best team. I think our clubhouse believes that.
“There’s going to be certain times we get beat, but as a collective group, if everybody is doing and playing like it’s supposed to, I don’t know how that can happen.’’
Certainly, if Kershaw pitches like he did Tuesday, conquering his October demons by yielding two hits and striking out eight in six innings, who can blame him for already dreaming of the Dodgers’ first World Series title since 1988.
“It’s hard,’’ Kershaw said, “not to think about what that might feel like. This is a great opportunity.’’
Kershaw, the greatest pitcher of his generation with three Cy Young awards and a career 2.43 ERA, has had his future Hall of Fame career scarred only by the ordinariness of his postseason. He had made 35 postseason appearances in his career, including 28 starts, but was just 11-12 with a 4.31 ERA, and a 5.40 ERA in five World Series appearances.
Then, along came this night. His slider, which had abandoned him in the biggest moments, was back. His fastball had life. His curveball was breaking. The Rays swung and missed 19 times against him, with the 50% strikeout rate the highest in any start of his career. The last 18 batters he faced, he retired 17 of them, with only Kevin Kiermaier’s solo homer the only blemish. He joined Justin Verlander as the only pitchers in postseason history to strike out 200 batters.
Funny how pitching for the most talented team in baseball — only the fourth in the divisional era to have three former MVPs on a World Series team — can relax a pitcher. He no longer has the burden of having to carry the entire team.
Simply, he can just go back to being himself, and watch his teammates work their magic, with the Dodgers becoming only the second team to score eight or more runs against the Ray since Aug. 14.
“When you’re on a great team,’’ Kershaw said, “it makes it easier to have success.’’
The gift that keeps on giving for the Dodgers continued to put on a show. Betts, acquired in February in a heist from the Red Sox, became the first player to homer, steal two bases and score two runs in a World Series game. He joined Babe Ruth as the only players in World Series history to steal two bases and draw a walk in the same inning.
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Betts, who signed a 12-year, $365 million extension before opening day in July, was so spectacular that his teammates had trouble even identifying their favorite moment. Was it his opposite-field homer? His steal of third base? His steal of second base? His break to home on a ground ball to score a run?
“I like winning,’’ Betts said. “We’re here to win, man. You can tell.”
If the Dodgers didn’t have enough heroes, there was also Bellinger, who hit the game-winning home run in Game 7 of the NLCS over the Atlanta Braves, and dislocating his shoulder in an enthusiastic forearm bash with Kike’ Hernandez.
Bellinger, who told the doctors he wasn’t interested in a brace, let alone even tape, forgot all about his sore shoulder and let it rip in the fourth inning, hitting Rays starter Tyler Glasnow’s 98-mph fastball into the right-field seats.
When he crossed home plate, he pointed towards his shoulder, reminding his teammates he had to tame down the celebration. So, he played footsies, tapping his foot with each of his teammates, keeping his shoulder to his side, and laughing along the way.
“The toe tap, I think I’ll continue to do that,’’ Bellinger said, “maybe my whole career, who knows?”
Maybe it will become the next fad in baseball, with the B&B Boys (Bellinger and Betts) resurrecting memories of some of the greatest MVP tandems in postseason. They were only the fifth pair of former MVP winners to homer in the same World Series game.
“It’s why we’re all here,’’ Betts said, “and that’s to win a World Series.’’
The Dodgers certainly made that statement Tuesday — loud and clear.
Follow Nightengale on Twitter: @Bnightengale