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Dissecting the minutiae of Opening Day a fun tradition

Thank you, Clayton Kershaw. You, too, Bryce Harper. And you, Jackie Bradley Jr. Nice going, Anthony Rizzo. Here's to the Reds and the Angels, who did their part to make this Opening Day memorable.

We'd waited five months for this day. Every baseball fan loves the Hot Stove, especially one like this one, when so many teams believe they made themselves better.

Still, this is the day we look forward to more than any other. We've waited so long for it, especially through January, when it begins to feel like we'll never see another meaningful baseball game.

And then in one day, the sport bursts back into our view with a string of games that can be endlessly sliced and diced and debated.

These first games are unique because we've waited so long for them that we want to digest every single moment, to wrap our minds around the strategy and the new faces and all the rest.

We could spend a week looking at this Opening Day from various angles and will need a few days to get back into rhythm of the regular season, of understanding that baseball delivers this kind of thing every single day.

This Opening Day delivered from beginning to end. Don't look for any large answers, because the beauty of this sport is that they come over time, as every team's strength eventually emerges.

Every team's weakness is exposed as well, so that little bullpen problem that seems surmountable today may look worse three months from now.

Answers are difficult to come by on Opening Day anyway, because this is the day the aces are on display.

Kershaw tossed the first complete-game shutout of his career and also homered as the Dodgers opened a new era of optimism with a tense 4-0 victory over the Giants.

No matter what else Kershaw does with the rest of his career, he'll always the Opening Day when he won a game with both his arm and his bat.

The Dodgers opened this new season in style by asking Sandy Koufax to return and throw out the ceremonial first pitch. Any Opening Day that includes Koufax back in a Dodgers uniform is going to be hard to top.

White Sox ace Chris Sale was terrific, too, in defeating the Royals. Jeff Samardzija was also solid and got the Cubs off to a nice start thanks, in part, to a two-run first-inning home run by Rizzo. Two other No. 1s -- Ian Kennedy and Felix Hernandez -- also turned in strong Opening Day performances.

And there was Stephen Strasburg, who may have pitched the best game of his young career, needing just 80 pitches to throw seven shutout innings in a victory over the Marlins. He commanded the strike zone like a champion, throwing 52 pitches for strikes and never really giving the Marlins a chance to get into the game.

There was another story line in Washington's 2-0 victory over Miami. That would be Harper, who homered twice.

Harper has been in the Major Leagues less than a year, but don't be surprised by anything he does. He's driven in a way few players are. Harper's manager, Davey Johnson, joked in Spring Training that he was also motivated by Mike Trout's success last season.

For the Nationals, widely regarded as baseball's best team, it was an appropriate Opening Day, and perhaps the beginning of a fun ride.

Bradley, the Red Sox's star rookie, had a terrific second-inning plate appearance to coax a walk from Yankees ace CC Sabathia to keep a rally alive. The Red Sox scored four runs that inning on their way to an 8-2 victory at Yankee Stadium.

Along the way, the Reds and Angels played and played for 13 innings, until the Halos finally won it 3-1. Jered Weaver and six relievers combined on a three-hitter, and after all the attention devoted to Trout, Albert Pujols and Josh Hamilton, it was catcher Chris Iannetta winning it with a two-run single in the the top of the 13th. He'd also homered earlier in the game.

The Yankees? Their worry list may have one more name on it. The Yanks can succeed only if their starting pitching is very good, and on this Opening Day, their ace, Sabathia, allowed four runs in five innings.

There was a comeback in Milwaukee. Actually, there were two of them. The Brewers rallied from two runs down in the eighth, then blew a one-run lead in the ninth. Finally, Jonathan Lucroy bailed out the home team with a walk-off sac fly in the bottom of the 10th.

All in all, it was a day to savor and to celebrate. These early games seem to mean a bit more because of the extra days off in April. Defeats sting a bit more. Victories taste a bit sweeter.

Not to worry. We'll get into the rhythm of the season quickly enough. For now, though, let's enjoy the ride, even this early one when the games seem to have a playoff feel.

Richard Justice is a columnist for Read his blog, Justice4U.