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Los Angeles Dodgers ride Clayton Kershaw to Game 1 World Series win

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ARLINGTON, Texas — Forget the perception. Burn the narrative.

Clayton Kershaw can pitch just fine in October, thank you very much — and after his performance in Game 1 of the World Series on Tuesday night, the Los Angeles Dodgers are within three wins of their first championship in 32 years.

Kershaw carved through the Tampa Bay Rays lineup, retiring 17 of the final 18 batters he faced and leading the Dodgers to an 8-3 victory in Game 1 of the 116th World Series.

Over six innings, Kershaw allowed two hits and one walk while striking out eight. His lone blemish was a Kevin Kiermaier home run that wound up of little consequence as the Dodgers’ offense spent the middle innings tagging Rays pitchers with a complement of longballs and small ball.

“Kershaw was dealing,” Rays manager Kevin Cash said. “You see why he’s going to the Hall of Fame one day.”

A crowd of 11,388 stuffed the concourses at Globe Life Field with Dodger jerseys, cheered the Dodgers’ big moments and unleashed vociferous boos on a check-swing strike call. The prospect of a partisan crowd for the remainder of the neutral-site series gives the Rays another obstacle — as if beating the team that went 43-17 during the regular season wasn’t enough.

When Kershaw is pitching as he did Tuesday, the task becomes even more herculean.

“I mean if we play at our best, no,” Kershaw said after the game when asked if the Dodgers are beatable when they’re playing their best. “I think we are the best team, and I think our clubhouse believes that. So there’s gonna be certain times where we get beat and that happens, but as a collective group, if everybody’s doing what they’re supposed to be doing and playing the way they’re supposed to, I don’t see how that can happen.”

Rays batters swung at 38 of Kershaw’s 78 pitches and whiffed on 19. All eight of his punchouts were of the swinging variety, with the last seven on sliders, and they moved Kershaw into second place on the all-time postseason strikeout list with 201. Should the series get to a fifth game, Kershaw is likely to pass the leader, Houston‘s Justin Verlander.

While in past years Dodgers manager Dave Roberts’ instinct has told him to send Kershaw out for the seventh inning, he resisted in Game 1. Even though Kershaw had allowed just two hits, even though Kershaw had generated 19 swings and misses, even though Kershaw had struck out eight, even though Kershaw had thrown only 78 pitches.

Kershaw had pitched into the seventh inning in 13 previous postseason games. He allowed opponents to score in more than half of them — 18 runs altogether.

Naturally, Roberts’ decision was followed by the Rays scoring a pair of seventh-inning runs and chipping away at Los Angeles’ lead, though by that point the Dodgers had flexed their offensive muscles in impressive fashion.

Cody Bellinger, who hit the go-ahead home run in the Dodgers’ Game 7 victory over Atlanta in the National League Championship Series, blasted a two-run home run off Tampa Bay starter Tyler Glasnow in the fourth inning to break a scoreless tie. Rather than celebrate with the forearm-bash celebration that dislocated his shoulder in the NLCS win, Bellinger executed a light foot-tap with teammate Max Muncy.

As much as the Dodgers love the home run, their ability to play small ball gave them their biggest inning.

Back-to-back walks by Glasnow to begin the fifth inning were followed by Mookie Betts and Corey Seager executing a double steal. Betts scored on a Muncy fielder’s choice, Seager on a Will Smith single, Muncy on a Chris Taylor single and Smith on a Kiké Hernandez single. And just like that, the Dodgers were ahead 6-1.

They piled on the next inning with a Betts leadoff home run and back-to-back doubles from Justin Turner and Muncy. And the favorites since the beginning of the original season — as well as the shortened one — were a quarter of the way to their first World Series title since 1988.

For months, as the coronavirus pandemic changed the world, the prospect of baseball staging a season, let alone the World Series, looked grim. The league and players fought over salaries. Commissioner Rob Manfred threatened to cancel the season. MLB ultimately imposed on the players a 60-game slate, and within the first two weeks a pair of teams suffered COVID-19 outbreak.

Since then, apart from the odd single case, MLB has operated with remarkable efficacy.

Playoff teams spent the last week of the seasons staying in hotels and, aside from travel to and from the stadium and from city to city if they advanced, haven’t left. No player on an active roster has tested positive since Aug. 28, according to the league.

Game 2 is scheduled for Wednesday, with the Rays’ Blake Snell facing a yet-to-be-named pitcher. After an off-day Thursday, Tampa Bay’s Charlie Morton will start against Dodgers ace Walker Buehler.

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Former All-Star reliever Corey Knebel, 29, traded by Milwaukee Brewers to Los Angeles Dodgers

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Corey Knebel, a 29-year-old reliever who was seemingly on his way to being let go by the Milwaukee Brewers, was dealt to the Los Angeles Dodgers moments before the non-tender deadline came and went on Wednesday night.

The reigning World Series champions will send a player to be named later or cash considerations to the Brewers in exchange for a former All-Star, who struggled in his return from Tommy John surgery but might possess some upside.

Knebel broke out with a 1.78 ERA and 126 strikeouts in 76 innings in 2017 but tore his ulnar collateral ligament in March 2019 and spent most of the next 16 months working his way back. His 2020 surface numbers — 6.08 ERA, 15 strikeouts, eight walks and a fastball that averaged less than 95 mph — were discouraging.

But the Dodgers saw signs of Knebel recapturing his old self when he returned from a hamstring injury in early September and believe there are other adjustments they can help him through to trigger a bounce-back season.

Knebel will be a free agent after the 2021 season and was projected by MLB Trade Rumors to make a little over $5 million in his final year of arbitration.

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Minnesota Twins non-tender Eddie Rosario

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MINNEAPOLIS — The Minnesota Twins declined Wednesday to offer a 2021 contract to Eddie Rosario, their regular left fielder for the past six seasons.

The Twins also decided to non-tender reliever Matt Wisler prior to MLB’s deadline. They reached one-year deals with five of their arbitration-eligible players: Jose Berrios ($500,000 signing bonus and $5.6 million salary), center fielder Byron Buxton ($5,125,000), reliever Tyler Duffey ($2.2 million), catcher Mitch Garver ($1,875,000) and reliever Caleb Thielbar ($650,000).

Rosario cleared waivers this week, another sign of the economic uncertainty around the industry.

“We very much appreciate everything Eddie has done up to this point. He’s been a big part of this team over the last number of years. So those are always difficult decisions. But he was a pro about it,” president of baseball operations Derek Falvey said.

Though Rosario and Wisler were the only players on the 40-man roster not offered new contracts, Falvey said the team remains open to negotiating with them as free agents.

The 29-year-old Rosario made $7.75 million last season, batting .257 with 13 homers and 42 RBI with a .792 OPS in 57 games. He hit a career-high 32 homers with 109 RBI in 2019 and was voted the team’s most valuable player in 2018, but the club’s top prospects are in the outfield. Alex Kirilloff, a 2016 first-round draft pick, is likely ready for an everyday role after landing on the postseason roster. Brent Rooker and Trevor Larnach are close behind.

Rosario, who was eligible for his third and final year of arbitration that likely would have driven his salary over $10 million, became a free agent one season early. With the pandemic putting the squeeze on revenues and payrolls, Rosario, whose career on-base percentage is just .310, was a logical candidate to non-tender.

Wisler was a waiver claim success story for the Twins, posting a 1.07 ERA with 35 strikeouts in 25 1/3 innings after splitting the 2019 season with San Diego and Seattle. He made $725,000 in 2020.

The moves left only one player in the salary arbitration eligibility pool, closer Taylor Rogers, with two more months to reach an agreement before the Twins would be forced to go to a hearing. Rogers took a step back this season, compiling a 4.05 ERA in 21 appearances with nine saves and two blown chances. He made $4.45 million in 2020, after notching 30 saves with 90 strikeouts over 69 innings in 2019.

Berrios, a two-time All-Star, had a 4.00 ERA in 12 starts during the 60-game season to help the Twins win their second straight AL Central title. He made $4,025,000 in 2020.

Buxton battled injuries again but posted a career-best .844 OPS, with 13 homers in 39 games while providing elite defense in center field. He made $3,075,000 in 2020.

Duffey, who turns 30 on Dec. 27, had a career-best 1.88 ERA in 24 innings this year with 13 hits allowed and 31 strikeouts. Over the last two years, the right-hander has been a key late-game cog in Minnesota’s bullpen, logging a 2.31 ERA and 113 strikeouts over 81 2/3 innings with 57 hits allowed. He made $1.2 million in 2020.

Garver and Thielbar entered their first year of arbitration eligibility. After a breakout 2019 season with 31 homers in 93 games, Garver slumped in 2020 and spent much of the summer on the injured list.

In addition to Rosario and Wisler, the Twins have a long list of notable free agents: designated hitter Nelson Cruz, starting pitchers Jake Odorizzi and Rich Hill, multi-positional player Marwin Gonzalez, relievers Sergio Romo and Tyler Clippard, and backup catcher Alex Avila. Relief pitcher Trevor May signed with the New York Mets.

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Tampa Bay Rays tender Tyler Glasnow, 6 other arbitration-eligible players

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ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. — The AL champion Tampa Bay Rays offered 2021 contracts to all seven of their arbitration-eligible players Wednesday, including starting pitcher Tyler Glasnow.

The others were left-handers Ryan Yarbrough and Jose Alvarado, right-hander Yonny Chirinos, first baseman Ji-Man Choi, infielder Joey Wendle and outfielder Manuel Margot.

Right-hander Edgar García, who was not yet eligible for arbitration, was non-tendered and becomes a free agent.

Glasnow went 5-1 in 11 regular-season starts in 2020. The 6-foot-8 right-hander was 2-3 during the postseason, including a pair of losses in two World Series outings against the Los Angeles Dodgers.

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