Let’s put Clayton Kershaw’s Opening Day dominance against San Francisco in context.
The Los Angeles Dodgers ace flummoxed hitters all afternoon, striking out seven and allowing just four hits in going the distance for a complete-game shutout. He also went the distance in the eighth inning, blasting a solo home run to center field to break a scoreless standstill.
It all amounted to a 4-0 win, as Kershaw became the first major league pitcher to homer on Opening Day since St. Louis’ Joe Magrane in 1988, the first Dodgers pitcher to do so since Don Drysdale in 1965 and the first starter to throw a shutout and homer in a season-opener since Cleveland’s Bob Lemon in 1953.
“He was just dominant,” said Los Angeles Times sportswriter Kevin Baxter, who joined the Damon Amendolara Show. “The off-speed stuff was just amazing, and the Giants were off-balanced.”
Kershaw allowed four hits – two to Angel Pagan, both of which never left the infield, and two to Pablo Sandoval, which were both grounders up the middle. Kershaw had thrown just 85 pitches entering the ninth inning.
“A little luck one way or the other,” Baxter said, “and he might have been working on a perfect game.”
Kershaw has made three Opening Day starts and is yet to allow a run. This start was particularly sweet in that it came against the Giants – winners of two of the last three World Series and the heavy favorite to win the National League West division.
In comparing the two franchises, Baxter said both have solid rotations – though the Giants’ is better – and both lineups feature guys more than capable of producing. The difference, however, is that the Giants are better at handling adversity. When former San Francisco closer Brian Wilson was lost for the season last year, relievers Santiago Casilla and Sergio Romo stepped up and filled the gap. But when Dodgers pitcher Ted Lilly got injured last year, no one really replaced him.
“The Giants seem to be one of these teams that are capable of overcoming injuries and distractions,” Baxter said. “They seem to have this way of filling gaps when they need to.”
In other Opening Day news, the Washington Nationals looked every bit the NL favorite that they are, as Bryce Harper homered twice against Miami and Stephen Strasburg pitched seven innings of three-hit, shutout ball.
“I think they should win that division easily,” Baxter said, “and I think once they get to the playoffs they’ll be really hard to beat.”
In the American League, meanwhile, the New York Yankees were beaten – and beaten thoroughly – by the Boston Red Sox, 8-2. The Yankees were without Derek Jeter, Alex Rodriguez, Mark Teixeira and Curtis Granderson – all of whom are injured – while CC Sabathia, who allowed four runs on eight hits in five innings, struggled to get his fastball beyond the low-90s.
“The Yankees got old really fast, and we all knew this was going to happen,” Baxter said. “They got old; they got brittle. I think the Yankees could be in for two, three, four years of really struggling until they get their payroll under control and some of the minor leaguers come up and prove they’re ready to take over.”
Baxter said the Tampa Bay Rays and Baltimore Orioles both possess a solid foundation of young talent, while the Toronto Blue Jays have promise. As for the Yankees and Red Sox, the immediate future isn’t quite as optimistic.
“That division could be real tough for a while,” Baxter said, “and we could be looking at the Yankees and Red Sox bringing up the rear for a few years.”