Los Angeles Dodgers left-hander Clayton Kershaw owns a resume befitting a pitcher capable of thriving no matter the ballpark dimensions, but the short porch in left field at Minute Maid Park can incite worry, particularly when the Houston Astros’ right-handed-heavy lineup comes into play.
On Sunday night, Kershaw will be charged with twirling a masterpiece to rival the performance he delivered in Game 1, but this time he won’t have spacious Dodger Stadium as the backdrop.
With the World Series squared at two games apiece and the victor in Game 5 set to move one win closer to a championship, Kershaw will need to render that short porch moot.
“No, I don’t think you can change anything based on where you’re at,” Kershaw said. “It’s just a matter of making good pitches to these guys. Most of the time I would say it doesn’t come into play that much. I feel the homers I give up are pretty legit. As long as you’re making your pitches, you might hit one off the wall that you’re not supposed to or something, but other than that you can’t really change.”
The Astros bashed three home runs into the Crawford Boxes in left in Games 3 and 4, with right-handed hitters responsible for each dinger: first baseman Yuli Gurriel in Game 3, plus center fielder George Springer and third baseman Alex Bregman in Game 4. Negating the advantage the Astros often capitalize on will undermine any intention Kershaw has to dominate.
Kershaw allowed just three hits and one run — a homer by Bregman — while striking out 11 over seven innings in the Dodgers’ 3-1 victory in Game 1.
Astros left-hander Dallas Keuchel, who suffered the loss opposite Kershaw in Game 1, will get the ball aiming to send Houston back to Los Angeles with the series lead and right-hander Justin Verlander on deck. Incidentally, Keuchel was hurt by the gopher ball in the opener, surrendering a leadoff homer to Chris Taylor in the first inning and a two-run blast to Justin Turner in the sixth that spelled the difference in the Dodgers’ 3-1 victory at Chavez Ravine.
“I just didn’t feel like the finish on my pitches were right, and that happens,” Keuchel said. “Through the course of the whole season if you get 34 starts, I think a lot of the better pitchers would say you only feel at your best a handful of times. And the in-between those handful of times is where you really establish how good you are because if you have a four-pitch mix and only two pitches are working that day, you make do with what you have.
“And that’s why guys like Kershaw and Verlander have done it so long, is that they’re not always at their best, but they look at their best because they know they have one or two pitches in their back pocket. And all of a sudden the third or fourth pitch comes around the fifth, sixth inning, and then all of a sudden you see a complete-game win.”
Working to the Astros’ advantage is one final opportunity to ride home-field advantage to victory. Keuchel has often lauded the raucous atmosphere at Minute Maid Park and credits fan support with providing him the vigor to conquer difficult patches during his starts. With so much on the line for the Astros, how Keuchel manages that fan support will prove critical.
“The key will be to harness the energy that comes with this building,” Astros manager A.J. Hinch said. “He loves pitching at this place. He’s had success at this place. And it’s the stage of the World Series. I think that’s a bigger issue than a guy like Keuchel facing the same team.”