History was made Saturday night at the Sydney Cricket Grounds as the Dodgers and the Diamondbacks took each other on in the first regular season Major League Baseball game to be played in the Southern Hemisphere. The irony that the Dodgers and Diamondbacks would technically play Fall baseball to start the season seems appropriate, as the two best teams in the National League West hope to be playing well into the Fall this October.
Clayton Kershaw may be the best “bad night” pitcher in baseball right now, and proved it again at the Cricket Ground. The Dodger ace, now having laid claim to two Cy Young Awards in the past three seasons, lacked his best fastball, but still managed to locate his pitches well and masterfully keep the Diamondbacks in check for 6 2/3 innings and pick up the first win of the 2014 season. Kershaw continued where he left out, striking out 7 Arizona Diamondbacks, and allowing only one well-hit ball over the course of his outing, a solid double from Arizona Diamondbacks star first baseman Paul Goldschmidt.
The pregame festivities were very festive, with both the National Anthems of the United States and Australia sung. The game got off to a late start, around an 8 p.m. local time beginning that pushed first pitch in the city of Los Angeles back to 2 a.m., but a festive crowd cheered both teams as they took the field for what counted as an Arizona Diamondbacks home game, though the crowd appeared to slightly favor the Dodgers. The crowd oo’d and ahh’d at each foul ball that entered the stands throughout the night regardless of who hit it, a bit of a novelty for the Aussie fans at the Cricket ground as it is rare that a bowled ball reaches the stands in Cricket relative to in Major League Baseball.
Wade Miley started the game out by striking out the side, then Kershaw struck out A.J. Pollock to start the bottom half of the first and got out of the inning allowing two hits that snuck through the infield on the quick infield grass (it had been reported to be the “fastest infield” that many players have ever played on,) but no runs.
The Dodgers struck first in the top of the second. After Adrian Gonzalez drew a leadoff walk, Scott Van Slyke hit a ball high and deep to left-center field. The winds were blowing in and newly-minted Diamondbacks left fielder Mark Trumbo (who was acquired in a trade with the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim during the off-season) badly misjudged the ball, leaping up to attempt to catch the ball at the wall. The ball wound up landing at the base of the wall several feet to Trumbo’s left and caroming back toward the infield, though many in the crowd, the announcers, and people watching back home in Los Angeles at first believed the ball had left the yard based on Trumbo’s reaction. Van Slyke wound up with a booming double and the Dodgers had runners on second and third. Two batters later, Andre Ethier christened the 2014 season by driving in Adrian Gonzalez from third with a ground ball to the right side, giving the Dodgers a 1-0 lead.
Van Slyke was a victim of the wind in his first at bat, but benefited from the wind in his second at bat during the 4th inning. After Adrian Gonzalez struck out but advanced on a passed ball third strike, Van Slyke drilled a ball toward right field. The same wind that knocked down Van Slyke’s double pushed the ball toward the right field foul pole, and a ball that may have dropped in play without the wind factor reached a part of the park where it easily cleared the right field wall 328 feet away. The blast put the Dodgers up 3-0.
Kershaw would surrender the Diamondbacks’ sole run in the bottom of the sixth inning. Paul Goldschmidt doubled to lead off the inning, took third on a wild pitch, and scored on a ground out by Mark Trumbo. The 3-1 score would stand up.
Kershaw took the win (1-0) going 6 2/3 innings, throwing 102 pitches, giving up a run on five hits and a walk while striking out seven, numbers consistent with Kershaw’s season-long averages of a year ago. An outstanding outing for most pitchers, this was merely average for the dominant Kershaw. Wade Miley, making the Opening Day start for Patrick Corbin who will most likely miss the 2014 season and undergo Tommy John surgery, took the loss (0-1) after pitching five innings, throwing 83 pitches and giving up three runs (all earned) on three hits and surrendering two walks. A Dodger bullpen of Chris Perez, Brian Wilson and Kenley Jansen held the win, with Jansen picking up the first save of the 2014 season.
The Dodgers and Diamondbacks will play the second game of the historic Australian Opening Series tonight at 7 p.m. Pacific Time, though it will actually be a 1:17 p.m. first pitch on Sunday afternoon at the Sydney Cricket Grounds. Hyun-Jin Ryu looks to build on his successes of the 2013 season for the Dodgers. He’ll be countered by the Diamondbacks’ Trevor Cahill.