Kershaw dazzles with shutout, homer vs. Giants
LOS ANGELES -- The $100 million renovation of Dodger Stadium blends the best of the past and the present, which makes it a lot like Clayton Kershaw.
With a four-hit shutout and a 4-0 Opening Day win over the defending World Series champion Giants, Kershaw was a throwback to Cy Young winners back in the day: Sandy Koufax, who threw out the first pitch, and Orel Hershiser, who caught it.
Kershaw became the first pitcher to homer and pitch a shutout on Opening Day since the Indians' Bob Lemon on April 14, 1953, against the White Sox. He also was the first to shut out a defending Series champion on Opening Day since the Yankees' Rick Rhoden beat the Twins in 1988.
With his first career home run (and a bomb to center at that) breaking a scoreless tie and triggering the winning eighth-inning rally, Kershaw turned into a left-handed version of slugging righties Don Newcombe or the late Don Drysdale, and not unlike another retired workhorse on the field pregame, power-hitting Fernando Valenzuela.
And like those aces, Kershaw will soon be financially rewarded, if rumors of current negotiations on a contract extension prove true.
"Show him the money," Matt Kemp said.
"Verlander doesn't hit home runs," Jerry Hairston said, referring to Tigers ace Justin Verlander, who just signed a $180 million extension.
Kershaw -- who took a pair of uncustomary curtain calls after his blast -- wasn't talking contract afterward and neither would general manager Ned Colletti as the agreed-upon news blackout held.
Kershaw's teammates weren't only talking money after Kershaw's amazing one-man opening act, which included seven strikeouts and no walks. Most of the talk was about his bat.
"Pandemonium," catcher A.J. Ellis said in describing the dugout when Kershaw blasted reliever George Kontos' first pitch of the eighth inning over the center-field fence.
Kershaw already had outlasted rival San Francisco ace Matt Cain, who was done after six scoreless innings because of a 30-pitch first inning that included Kemp's 11-pitch strikeout.
"It just erupted," Adrian Gonzalez said of the dugout scene. "It was tough, getting it through the wind, through the traffic. It was huge. We had opportunities but didn't get him run support, so he did it himself.
"To me, he's probably the best pitcher in baseball."
Kershaw, as usual, shied away from the Koufax comparisons that have stuck since Joe Torre linked them after his first Spring Training start for the Major League team in 2008.
"I just don't want to disrespect Sandy; he doesn't deserve that" Kershaw said of his reaction to the comparison. "He's the best left-handed pitcher ever. Obviously, I'm honored with the comparison. I don't put merit into it. I've got a long way to go."
Ellis doesn't think so.
"You got a sense on this day, with the first pitch thrown by Sandy Koufax and the last pitch by Clayton Kershaw, it's almost like a passing of the torch today," said Ellis. "He's the most special player I've ever played with."
This was Kershaw's sixth career shutout and third against the Giants and, adding to his legend, he is a true Giant killer with a 9-4 record and a 1.28 ERA lifetime against San Francisco. In his three Opening Day starts, Kershaw has thrown 19 scoreless innings. This, however, was the first Dodgers shutout on Opening Day since Hideo Nomo in 2003.
It was the first shutout in a Dodgers home opener since Valenzuela in 1981. The home run was the first by a Dodgers pitcher on Opening Day since Drysdale in 1965 and the first in MLB since Joe Magrane in 1988.
"He's an athlete," Giants catcher Buster Posey said of Kershaw. "I think the ball ran back to the middle a little bit, and he was all in. He was swinging no matter what."
Kershaw's home run was followed by a double from Carl Crawford, whose impressive Dodgers debut could easily be overlooked. There was great doubt Crawford would even be healed from Tommy John surgery in time for this game, and all he did was go 2-for-4 with a run.
"He's going to be the catalyst," said Gonzalez.
Also easy to overlook was the catching of Ellis, whom Kershaw said he shook off only once. Ellis also threw out Angel Pagan trying to steal second base to end the third inning.
Of course, Ellis deferred to Kershaw, complimenting a sharp curveball thrown for strikes to go with the 93-mph fastball and the slider that took Kershaw to the upper echelon of pitching two years ago. Ellis said there's also an explanation for Kershaw to need an economical 94 pitches for a complete game.
"When you're facing dominant stuff, hitters don't want to get deep in counts," he said. "So he's getting easier, cheaper outs."
The game also marked a flawless debut of the left side of the infield, Justin Sellers recalled from the Minor Leagues at shortstop and Luis Cruz back at third base. Cruz was busy with three nice plays on grounders, while Sellers handled his only grounder and hung on when staggered by a Cain liner in the third inning.