Los Angeles ace Clayton Kershaw and Houston hurler Justin Verlander lead the Dodgers and Astros into the 113th World Series on Tuesday seeking to capture a first Major League Baseball crown.
Kershaw and Verlander, perhaps the two greatest pitchers of their generation, boast a wealth individual honors, but neither has captured the ultimate prize.
Kershaw, the southpaw from Texas whose resume includes one National League Most Valuable Player award, three NL Cy Young award and seven All-Star selections, gets his first chance after helping the Dodgers reach the World Series for the first time since they last won it all in 1988.
Verlander, a former American League Rookie of the Year, MVP and Cy Young award-winner, has pitched in two World Series, as a rookie with the Tigers in 2006 and again with Detroit in 2012 when they were swept by San Francisco.
He's 0-3 in World Series starts -- a record he aims to change with the Astros, the team he joined in a trade from Detroit on August 31 just in time to be included on their post-season roster.
"Obviously he's a premier performer at the highest times, the most intense times," Astros manager A.J. Hinch said. "And you can't teach that. And you can't buy it. You have to have it or you don't. And Verlander has it."
Verlander is coming off two sensational starts that earned him MVP honors in the American League Championship Series triumph over the New York Yankees.
He held the Yankees to one run over 16 innings, notching 21 strikeouts.
"Verlander, if that dude wasn't a first-ballot Hall of Famer before this post-season, he is now," Astros pitcher Lance McCullers said. "The impact he's brought on this team, the way that he goes about his business after all these years, you cannot say enough about what he's done for us and how he's built his legacy."
Kershaw, who was long unable to translate his regular-season dominance into post-season success, allowed just one run on three hits with five strikeouts in six innings in the final game of the Dodgers' National League Championship Series triumph over the defending champion Chicago Cubs.
- Four more wins -
He was promptly slated to pitch game one of the World Series on Tuesday by Dodgers manager Dave Roberts, who says there was no sign that the back trouble that sidelined Kershaw for five weeks would be a problem.
"Physically, Clayton feels good," Roberts said. "Obviously, you saw the emotion after (the clinch). He'll be ready to go game one."
Kershaw called reaching the World Series "an incredibly special moment" but made it clear it wasn't "mission accomplished".
"You know, we have four more wins to go," he said. "We've 1988 so long in LA, it feels good to say that we're getting to the World Series in 2017, and with four more wins, hopefully get to get one home."
The Dodgers are seeking a seventh World Series title while the Astros, in the Fall Classic for just the second time, are in pursuit of their first.
The Dodgers led the major leagues with 104 regular-season wins while the Astros notched 101.
The Dodgers disposed of the Cubs in five games in the NLCS while the Astros were pushed to the brink by the Yankees in the ALCS, falling behind 3-2 in the series before winning the last two games at home to deny New York a 41st World Series berth.
While Houston may not provide the glamour that would have surrounded a Dodgers-Yankees match-up, the Astros' game one starting pitcher Dallas Keuchel believes they'll bring plenty of game.
"Quality ballclub," Keuchel, the 2015 AL Cy Young award-winner said of the Dodgers. "They led the Major Leagues in wins for a reason. They're not to be taken lightly -- but we're not to be either."
- Two teams standing -
The teams do have some post-season history, dating back to the days before realignment landed the Astros in the American League in 2013.
Houston eliminated the Dodgers in a one-game NL West division tiebreaker in 1980, and Los Angeles downed Houston en route to a World Series title in the strike-disrupted 1981 season.
This clash will see the Astros' explosive offense -- which led the majors in runs scored with the second-highest number of home runs -- challenging a formidable Dodgers pitching staff that was beefed up in the wake of last season's playoff loss to the Cubs.
"There's two teams standing," Hinch said. "It's a race to four wins now."
© 2017 AFP