That's the case because Kershaw -- the best pitcher of his era and future first-ballot Hall of Famer -- has famously struggled at times during the postseason (4.31 career playoff ERA coming into this series versus a 2.43 career mark during the regular season). Perceptions aside, Kershaw's playoff dossier is at worst a mixed bag, and a number of his outings have come on short rest. That said, the narrative is a strong one, and Kershaw's performance in any playoff appearance are notable for that reason.
Here, then, are his results from Game 1, which the Dodgers won 8-3:
He flashed better fastball velocity than he did in his NLCS Game 1 start, when his ongoing back issues were flaring up. However, he struggled with his command early, particularly of his slider. In the first, Kershaw allowed a hit and a walk but was able to escape trouble.
That lack of slider command was short-lived, as he found his feel for the pitch in the second inning and leaned heavily on it the rest of the way. Here's a representative example:
Kershaw wound up getting 11 swinging strikes on his slider and 19 swings and misses overall, which are both highly impressive totals. Relevant:
Kershaw first 20 pitches: 1 swing-and-miss.— Buster Olney (@Buster_ESPN) October 21, 2020
Kershaw's last 21 pitches: 10 swing-and-misses.
In all it was a three-pitch attack for Kershaw, as his 78 pitches broke down into 35 sliders, 31 fastballs, and 12 curves. Given how sharp his command was after the first, that mix kept Tampa Bay hitters off balance almost all night.
Speaking of "almost all night," Kershaw had retired 13 straight before Kevin Kiermaier reached him for a solo home run in the fifth. It would prove to his only blemish, as you saw above. Had the Dodgers not barged to an 8-1 lead by the end of the sixth, Kershaw probably would've pitched longer. Even so, it was a gem of an outing.
Game Score is a quick-and-dirty Bill James metric that measures a pitcher's dominance or lack thereof in a given start (50 is average and anything 90 or higher is an absolute gem). Kershaw in Game 1 put up a Game Score of 73. Out of Kershaw's 28 career postseason starts, that Game Score of 73 ranks eighth. For his 13-year career, he's averaged a Game Score of 63, so in Game 1 Kershaw was even better than his usual self, at least according to this particular measure.
For the Dodgers, that's some timely dominance from their ace.