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Kemp Walks Away with the Headlines

Top Deck of Dodger Stadium. (LAist/Jimmy Bramlett)
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When the Nationals had a rain out in Miami last Sunday that set their pitching rotation back a day, it seemed like a disappointment for baseball fans losing the would-be Clayton Kershaw and Stephen Strasburg duel Friday night. To compensate the baseball gods decided to bestow upon Los Angeles the Major League debut of the Nationals' wunderkind outfielder Bryce Harper.

But as glitzy and enticing as those star names might be, the Dodgers proved that baseball was a team sport in their 4-3 10-inning victory.

"I'm really proud of them, the way they bounced back in the ninth," Manager Don Mattingly said. "To go down a couple of runs to that club over there late, and to be able to scratch the runs out and be able to win it like that — it's a good feeling for our club."

A 1-1 tie heading into the ninth inning, Scott Elbert pitched to two batters leaving the game with one out and a runner on first. Javy Guerra came in and continued to struggle allowing an inherited runner to score and allowing another run to score before getting out of the inning.

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But the Dodgers chipped away against Henry Rodriguez in the ninth inning, a couple of wild pitches in the ninth inning and dropped wild pitch third strikes allowing the Dodgers to tie the game.

After Jamey Wright pitched a drama free tenth inning, Matt Kemp ended the night with a 423-foot blast to center field running around the bases serenaded by the chants of "M-V-P!"

"It feels good," Kemp said about the crowd support. "It helps a lot when you hear those guys on your side."

Kemp set a new Dodger record with 11 homers in the month of April while notching his seventh career walk-off hit and the fifth walk-off homer. After celebrating with his teammates, Kemp broke away to the seats behind home plate greeting his mother from behind the protective netting.

"She's been there for everything," Kemp said. "That's the person I look up to. That's my hero."

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No word on whether Kemp will succeed in keeping his mother in Los Angeles throughout the season.

All of this was just the icing on what had been a remarkable pitchers' duel. Despite Kemp's heroics, he really looked like the rookie making his debut against Strasburg and his 99 mph fastballs.

"It was tough to lay off the high heaters," Kemp noted. "They looked like strikes to me. He had some good great stuff tonight."

But the fact the Kemp struck out twice didn't deter him.

"When you face tough pitching like that, you have to grind out your at-bats."

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Both Strasburg and Billingsley went seven innings giving up a run on five hits each. Billingsley's lone mistake was a fastball up in the zone to Adam LaRoche in the seventh inning, his second homer in the series. Despite that, Billingsley enjoyed being in duels like these.

"They're fun to be in," Billingsley said. "I just keep going out there trying to get into rhythm."

The entire backdrop of the game was the debut of Harper. Before the game, the circus was in full force.

"I had a good pitcher breaking in New York with Dwight Gooden and didn't have as many cameras as this," Nationals' Manager Davey Johnson noted referencing dealing with a 19-year old rookie phenom in 1984 with the Mets.

Fast forward nearly 30 years later, and there was quite the media presence at Dodger Stadium. MLB Network made the last minute decision to broadcast the game nationally. ESPN had their cameras. Harper sat with the media prior to the game in the visitor's dugout answering the questions for about 10 minutes.

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"I'm very excited to be here," Harper said as he took in the scene. "But I'm not amped up or anything like that."

It wasn't anything divergent from the How-To-Deal-With-The-Media-101 Bible. For that he was rewarded with his first Major League hit: a double to center field off of Dodgers' starter Chad Billingsley in the seventh inning (as Billingsley was treated to a moon from a hairy-assed denizen of the Dugout Club) and an RBI on a sacrifice fly in the ninth inning.

"I didn't really have butterflies," Harper noted after the game. "I was pretty calm, just looking for my pitch."

Jerry Hairston, Jr. was hit on the left hand by a Strasburg heater in the seventh inning that started the tying rally that was capped off by A.J. Ellis' RBI single and Hairston's slide to home plate that unjarred the ball from Nat's catcher Wilson Ramos. Hairston left the game after scoring the run and took x-rays which returned negative.

"It's sore," Hairston said about the bruise, "but it should be fine."

To the sold out crowd of 54,242 who received their Don Drysdale and Maury Wills bobblehead and the majority who stuck through to see Kemp dazzle yet again, they were treated to the wackiness and beauty of the game of baseball.

As Kemp noted: "Baseball's funny."