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Justin Turner: The making of a Dodgers postseason legend

Via USA Today

Behind a stellar performance from Clayton Kershaw and Justin Turner’s go-ahead homer, the Dodgers beat the Astros 3-1 in Game 1.

 

LOS ANGELES – Every day he comes into Dodger Stadium, Justin Turner walks by a collection of trophies, photos, plaques, jerseys and magazine covers that highlight the franchise’s history.

It would be easy to pay no attention to all that memorabilia after seeing the items repeatedly over the last four seasons, but the Los Angeles Dodgers third baseman says he tries to soak in what they represent.

He might as well get comfortable among Dodgers legends, since he’s making a bid to join them.

For the third time this October, Turner delivered a home run to put Los Angeles ahead on the way to a win, this time in Tuesday’s 3-1 triumph over the Houston Astros in Game 1 of the World Series.

With the Astros’ Dallas Keuchel locked in a 1-1 duel with Clayton Kershaw and two outs in the sixth, Turner launched a two-run homer to left that provided the winning margin as the Dodgers took a major first step toward capturing their first championship since 1988. In the last 20 World Series, the team that won the opener claimed the title 17 times.

That it would be Turner providing the offensive heroics – while Kershaw tossed seven innings of three-hit ball and struck out 11 – has become almost expected around these parts.

Nine days before, the red menace had authored one of the most memorable moments in recent Dodgers history when his three-run homer gave L.A. a 4-1 walkoff victory over the Chicago Cubs in Game 2 of the National League Championship Series, ushering in the dethroning of the reigning champs.

In the opener of the division series, Turner cracked yet another three-run homer as the Dodgers took a 4-0 lead in the first inning and went on to sweep the Arizona Diamondbacks. The fans’ reaction to that blast was thunderous, but nothing like the roar let out by Tuesday’s sellout crowd of 54,253 when Turner took Keuchel deep.

“That was probably just as loud as it was on the walk-off homer,’’ Turner said. “This place was the most electric I’ve ever seen it, which it should be, the first World Series here in 29 years. Our fans are fired up. They’re pumped. The buzz around the city is crazy. And obviously we’re all excited to be able to let them enjoy this with us.’’

Turner, a 32-year-old native of nearby Long Beach, has been responsible for much of the fun. After making his first All-Star Game on the final vote this year, Turner has had a postseason worthy of, say, someone like Duke Snider.

Turner’s 14 RBI this postseason are now a franchise record, and his 26 over the last four Octobers tied Snider for the career postseason mark. Going back to Oct. 9, 2015, Turner has reached base in 24 of his last 25 games in the postseason, batting .371 in this one.

“It just seems like he’s on time to every pitch,’’ Dodgers pitcher Brandon McCarthy said. “It’s like a parallel to watching Miguel Cabrera when he’s fully healthy. It feels like his barrel is where the ball is at all times, almost like it’s impossible to fool him or get him off it. JT just looks like, even with the leg kick and everything looking weird to get into it, the barrel is there all the time.’’

Some of that has to do with the well-chronicled changes Turner made to his hitting mechanics starting toward the end of the 2013 season at the urging of then-New York Mets teammate Marlon Byrd. Turner refined his new swing working with hitting coach Doug Latta during the offseason, a time when the Mets released him, convinced he would not amount to more than the utilityman with the career .260 average he was at the time.

Since joining the Dodgers in 2014, Turner has turned into an elite defender at third, a team leader in the clubhouse and one of the few hitters capable of taking Keuchel deep this year. The 2015 Cy Young Award winner yielded just 15 homers during the season.

“I wanted to throw it up and in. Within the strike zone, it was a good pitch,’’ Keuchel said. “The launch angle was really high. It wasn’t hit extremely hard by any means. It just got out.”

Turner actually concurred with that assessment, remarking that the 371-foot shot was aided by the warm conditions – the game-time temperature of 103 degrees was the highest ever recorded in a World Series game – and adding that on a regular night the ball would have been caught.

Having known plenty of anonymity in his career, Turner was also quick to credit leadoff man Chris Taylor, who hit Keuchel’s first pitch out of the park. Taylor also transformed his career by retooling his swing with the intent of getting the ball in the air more frequently, and it paid off as he hit 21 homers this year, or 20 more than his total in parts of three seasons before.

It may be only fitting that Turner and Taylor shared MVP honors in the NLCS, both of them homering twice.

“He’s the spark plug. When he goes, we go,’’ Turner said. “He’s been so much fun to hit behind and watching him become a star, really, on this team.’’

That’s quite a compliment, especially coming from someone who is etching his name into franchise lore.



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