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Justin Turner's ginger-tinged world comes up golden again for Dodgers in Game 1 win

Los Angeles Times sportswriters Andy McCullough and Dylan Hernandez discuss the Dodgers winning Game 1 of the World Series over the Houston Astros, 3-1.

In this world, in Justin Turner’s world, the pumpkin is still a carriage, the mice are still horses and the rags are still a jeweled gown.

The clock never struck midnight on Turner and it never will.

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The former nonroster player with the majestic red mane is now an October legend, the 32-year-old late bloomer’s postseason for the ages continuing with a two-run home run that broke a sixth-inning stalemate and vaulted the Dodgers to a 3-1 victory over the Houston Astros in the opening game of the World Series.

Turner redirected an up-and-in cutter by Dallas Keuchel into the left-field pavilion, providing a new generation of Angelenos with another memory for which they waited their entire lives.

Nine days earlier, he floated around the bases at Dodger Stadium after he rifled a walk-off home run in Game 2 of the National League Championship Series against the Chicago Cubs. Tuesday night, he soared again, taking in the roar of the crowd as he circled the infield.

Animal, the red-haired character from the Muppets, appeared on the stadium's video scoreboard and chanted, "Jus-tin! Jus-tin!" The 54,000-plus fans in attendance chanted with him.

"Loud, it was loud," Turner said. "That was probably just as loud as it was on the walk-off homer. This place was the most electric I've ever seen it, which it should be, the first World Series here in 29 years."

However this postseason ends for the Dodgers, Turner has already secured his place in franchise history.

If Yasiel Puig's flapping his tongue is the most lasting image of this postseason, Turner's lumberjack beard has to be a close second. The fans have gradually taken to him over his four seasons with the Dodgers, enough to where his fourth and final at-bat Tuesday night was accompanied by a soundtrack of the crowd chanting, "M-V-P! M-V-P!"

The sentiment was shared by his teammates.

“You can’t teach what he’s doing,” starting pitcher Clayton Kershaw said. “No mechanics or anything can teach the mind-set and the competitiveness, the clutchness, whatever that is. It seems like every single night, he’s in the right position to come up with a big hit.

"We're going to ride him because I don't know if there's an easy way to get him out. He's been unbelievable for us."

Kershaw's claims are backed by the numbers. Turner's 14 runs batted in are the most by a Dodgers player in a single postseason. The third baseman's four home runs in these playoffs are second-most to Davey Lopes' five in 1978.

Turner has 26 career postseason RBIs, equaling the franchise record established by Duke Snider.

"It's crazy," Turner said.

Turner spoke about what it's like for him to show up to work at Dodger Stadium every day, how he feels when walks out of the elevator and past a gauntlet of trophies and retired jerseys.

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"It's something that I don't take for granted," Turner said. "I feel extremely proud to be able to put on the same uniform as those guys that have their names on the wall and it's something that I don't just walk by every day with my blinders up. I try to soak it in every chance I can."

Especially because of how he reached this point.

Turner is in his fourth season with the Dodgers. He has been their everyday third baseman for three years and made the All-Star team this season.

The concept of Turner being a good player lost its novelty some time ago, but that doesn’t make his journey any less improbable, any less unbelievable. This was the same player who was discarded only four years ago by the New York Mets.

Justin Turner had seen three straight fastballs from Dallas Keuchel, all low in the strike zone. But when a fourth fastball came high in the zone, Turner drove it 371 feet into the left-field stands for a two-out, two-run home run and a 3-1 Dodgers lead.
Justin Turner had seen three straight fastballs from Dallas Keuchel, all low in the strike zone. But when a fourth fastball came high in the zone, Turner drove it 371 feet into the left-field stands for a two-out, two-run home run and a 3-1 Dodgers lead.

When he was a utility player for the Mets, did he ever imagine this was in him?

"No," he acknowledged. "I was just trying to survive."

And resigned to the idea he was a utilityman.

"I don't think anyone grows up dreaming to be a utility guy in the big leagues," Turner said. "But I certainly wasn't angry that I was a utility guy in the big leagues. I was just happy to be in the big leagues."

Marlon Byrd is best-known in baseball circles for flunking a couple of drug tests. Turner thinks of him as a generous mentor on the Mets who changed his swing, and, by extension, his life.

In the winter following his release from the Mets, Turner was invited by Byrd to work with Chatsworth-based hitting coach, Doug Latta. Turner worked on launching the baseball into the air, a change in philosophy that eventually transformed him into one of the most feared hitters in the game.

Turner, who attended Mayfair High in Lakewood and Cal State Fullerton, signed a minor league contract with his hometown Dodgers. His role on the team increased every season, so much so the Dodgers rewarded him last winter with a four-year, $64-million contract.

"He just comes up with big hits, not only in the regular season, but the postseason especially," manager Dave Roberts said. "He's that guy you want in big spots. He doesn't scare off."

One of Turner’s first baseball memories was watching Kirk Gibson’s home run in Game 1 of the 1988 World Series at his grandparents’ house. Turner is now the one creating memories for others.

It's all pretty surreal and Turner knows it. At the postgame news conference, he shared a story about how Sandy Koufax told him the 162-game regular season was work and that now was the time for him to enjoy himself.

"Must be fun to name drop Sandy Koufax," the moderator teased him.

Turner laughed. He was living a dream.

Follow Dylan Hernandez on Twitter @dylanohernandez

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