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Matt Kamlet, CBSLA.com
LOS ANGELES (CBSLA.com) — Dodger fans showed up to a charmingly renovated Dodger Stadium, anticipating an exciting show between their Boys in Blue, opening the season with more seasoned talent on the roster, and the defending World Series Champion, and despised arch-rival, San Francisco Giants. What Clayton Kershaw gave them was history in the making.
The sky was overcast over Los Angeles, hinting that the Giants brought some of that Bay-area weather to Chavez Ravine, but the stadium was nevertheless warm, as beloved Dodgers legend Sandy Koufax threw out the ceremonial first pitch. As fans observed and saluted an elegant, allegorical Koufax as he is today on the mound before the game, they witnessed what looked like the shade of his storied talent from 50 years ago on the mound for the rest of Opening Day 2013.
Clayton Kershaw struck out seven Giants, gave up no walks, and surrendered only four hits on his way to open the season with a complete-game shutout, off a grand total of only 94 pitches thrown. That gave him an average of just over 10 pitches per inning. His curveball was tremendous, as he threw 64 strikes, forcing nine ground-outs.
It was a pitcher’s duel, as San Francisco’s Matt Cain struck out eight Dodgers through six innings, and there were no runs on the board from either team — until the eighth inning.
It was the bottom of the inning, and Dodgers manager Don Mattingly, along with pitching coach Rick Honeycutt, had just asked Kershaw if he felt well enough to stay in the game. Kershaw said that he did, and proceeded to grab a bat to lead off the for the Dodgers. Giants reliever, George Kontos, had already been on the mound for an inning, in place of Cain.
The very first pitch of the inning was a fastball, right over the plate. With one swing of the bat, Clayton Kershaw gave the Dodgers their first run of 2013.
Kershaw connected to blast a 414 ft. home run, the first homer of his career, straight to dead-center.
The standing ovation from the crowd lasted throughout the entire following at-bat.
Kershaw, starting his third consecutive Opening Day, became the first pitcher to hit a home run and throw a complete game shutout on Opening Day in 60 years. Bob Lemon last accomplished the feat for Cleveland in 1953.
Kershaw also earned a Game Score of 86, the highest by a Dodgers pitcher during Opening Day since the team came over from Brooklyn.
Led by his example, more of the Dodgers capitalized on the momentum, and the entire lineup would get to the plate in the inning.
Carl Crawford doubled to left for his second hit of the day, and advanced to third on a bunt single by second baseman Mark Ellis. Santiago Casilla came in to pitch for the Giants, but promptly threw a wild pitch with Matt Kemp batting, which gave Crawford an opportunity to show off his impressive speed, and allowed him to score. Kemp walked, Adrian Gonzalez was hit by a pitch, and Andre Ethier brought Ellis in on a fielder’s choice. Luis Cruz was intentionally walked and catcher A.J. Ellis scored Kemp on a grounder to third.
What made the inning special, however, was that the Giants decided to pitch to shortstop Justin Sellers, rather than intentionally walk him to get back to Kershaw.
The Dodgers went on to beat the Giants 4-0, opening the season on a positive note.
The energy of the stadium felt more electric than it has in recent years, not because of aesthetic field renovations or an upgraded sound system, not because of new high-definition score boards or expanded snack menus, but because the Dodgers were just fun to watch. Players were hugging, their fundamentals were spot-on, and Matt Kemp led an elated celebration in the dugout following Kershaw’s go-ahead home run.
By the end of the day, the clouds over Los Angeles cleared, and the blue skies illuminated the abundance of blue jerseys in the crowd.
It is all but in the spirit of baseball that Sandy Koufax threw a shutout to open the 1964 season at Dodger Stadium, and on the very day he welcomed baseball back into that very ballpark, from that very mound, in 2013, another dominant Dodgers left-handed pitcher repeated, even enhanced, history.
Its been 25 years since the Dodgers last won a pennant. Ask 55,000 baseball fans in attendance, and they’ll tell you that 2013 at Chavez Ravine started with a familiar feel to the early-mid 1960′s.