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A Magical Opening Day for Kershaw and the Dodgers
"Opening Day is a special day no matter what," Dodger manager Don Mattingly said. After the Dodgers 4-0 win over the defending World Series champion San Francisco Giants, it became clear that sentence was an understatement.
Clayton Kershaw made sure there was no need to qualify that sentence. Not only did he pitch a complete-game four-hit shutout against the Giants, but he also decided to take matters into his own hands in the bottom of the eighth inning with the game still a scoreless deadlock.
"I already struck out twice," Kershaw recalled about his thoughts before that at-bat. "I better not strike out again."
The Giants trotted out reliever George Kontos to pitch for a second inning after getting the side out on eight pitches in the seventh inning. His first pitch was a 92 mph fastball right down the middle of the plate. Kershaw turned on it and sent it 414 feet over the centerfield wall.
"I had no idea it was going to go out or not since I never hit one like that before in a game," Kershaw said still beaming. "I didn't know what to expect. What an awesome feeling."
That one hit sent the sold-out crowd of 53,138 into a frenzy that refused to be quelled. Not even after Kershaw went up the dugout steps for a half-hearted curtain call did the crowd calm down.
"I had to think about three more outs before I could appreciate it," Kershaw explained.
It seemed like nothing would quiet the crowd down. It didn't help that Carl Crawford next hit his second double of the game, a ball that landed just inside the left field line. When Mark Ellis popped up a bunt that landed out of the reach of a diving Buster Posey, the crowd never stopped. It wasn't until Giants manager Bruce Bochy pulled Kontos for Santiago Casilla that the cheers turned to boos which then fell off.
"He gave us seven chances to take care of it ourselves, and finally he said enough is enough," battery-mate A.J. Ellis said. Ellis also said that he has seen Kershaw hit home runs during batting practice but never thought he would do it in a game.
"The last time he hit a home run was in spring training on his 21st birthday. I always rip him on that. Everytime he has a birthday I always tell him it's the anniversary of the only home run in your life. Now I have to redo it."
The Dodgers scored three more times in the inning to give Kershaw some breathing room to end the game in an efficient two hours, 25 minutes. Perhaps most astonishing is that Kershaw needed only 94 pitches to put away the Giants part of which Kershaw attributed to his curveball.
"I was able to throw it for strikes," Kershaw said. "It made it easier for them to chase."
And chase they did. Kershaw only had two three-ball counts, both in the first inning and both resulting in outs.
Of course underneath it all is the fact that Kershaw is in the last season of his two-year, $19 million contract. He still has one more arbitration-eligible year before becoming a free agent in the 2015 season and has said he was not going to negotiate during the season.
With what he displayed on opening day, perhaps he could be the first $200 million pitcher.
Passing of the Torch. Things didn't look good for the Dodgers quite frankly. The pregame ceremonies included the Blue Man Group with a performance that could be generously described as detached and fireworks in centerfield that spooked the color guard horses. It wasn't the sunny 75 degrees that we've been accustomed to. In fact it was chilly.
Then everything started to turn around as the sun started to come out as the cermonial first pitch was about to be made with Magic Johnson on the mound pitching to Orel Hershiser. But Mattingly came out from the dugout to make a pitching change: Sandy Koufax.
Sandy F-in Koufax! No. 32 relieving no. 32.
In that instant the Blue Man Group faded away, and seeing one the most storied pitchers in Dodgers history bounce a pitch to Hershiser became the moment that cemented the day.
A.J. Ellis put it best after the game as he was talking about Kershaw's importance to the club.
"You got a sense for it today when the first pitch of the day was thrown out by Sandy Koufax, and the last pitch of the day was thrown out by Clayton Kershaw. It's almost like a passing of the torch it felt like."
Kershaw always shies away from any comparisons to Koufax.
"I don't want to disrespect Sandy. He's the best left-handed pitcher ever.
More Special Moments. Justin Sellers showed the world his defense last May in a spectacular play in the stands against the Arizona Diamondbacks:
Sellers injured his back in the play which required season-ending surgery. Even though that threw his future with the Dodgers in question, he has no regrets about it. "The best thing I ever did," Sellers added.
With Hanley Ramirez all but cemented at shortstop, it made Sellers' option to Triple-A on March 19 all but inevitable. But funny things happen sometimes. Ramirez injured his right thumb at the World Baseball Classic. "That gave me hope," Sellers said about his chances on making the club.
There was talk about using Luis Cruz at short, Juan Uribe at third, and a million of difference combinations and permutations thereof that didn't include Sellers. But Mattingly threw a curve ball to reporters last week in the final days of spring training bringing up the possibility of Sellers being the opening day shortstop.
Not only was Sellers' name on the Opening Day 25-man active roster on Sunday, his name was on the lineup card batting eighth at shortstop.
"I'm so excited," Sellers said bouncing up and down in front of his locker.
"With the pitching staff we put together, we want to make sure we catch it as best as we can and cover as much ground as we can," Mattingly said. "We think Sellers is the best defender there."
Not only was Sellers' name on the Opening Day 25-man active roster on Sunday, his name was on the lineup card batting eighth at shortstop. Fortunately his top-notch defense wasn't needed since he only caught a line drive by Cain in the third inning and fielded a grounder by Angel Pagan to end the sixth inning. Sellers also went 0-for-4 at the plate with one strikeout.