Is there anything better early in a baseball season than the limitless possibilities and potential of Opening Day?
Dodger Stadium greeted fans with its perfectly manicured lawn, the “LA” logo edged into the center field grass. Bunting hung from the top deck of the ballpark. Fans made their way in. The smell of Dodger Dogs and beer permeated the air.
And at 1:11 p.m., as if to script, Clayton Kershaw reared back, fired a strike, and the 2017 Los Angeles Dodgers season was underway.
But the start of this season was not so simple. Vin Scully, our honorable Hall of Fame Broadcaster of 67 seasons, the “Best That Ever Was” (and truly, he was, and perhaps ever will be,) was not in the booth. He was not in the ballpark. But the ghost of the still-living legend hung over this Opening Day in a profound way.
Player introductions were made. Fans gave roars of approval. Sergio Romo, acquired in the off-season as a free agent after 9 years and 3 World Series Championships with the San Francisco Giants, beamed from ear to ear and looked as excited as the freshest rookie as he was introduced. Kershaw and Grandal were all business preparing for the game in the Dodger bullpen. The National Anthem featured the color guard and many men and women in uniform holding the massive flag that took up most of the outfield.
And then….there was that voice. That glorious voice that signed off last October 2nd. In a pre-recorded pre-game monologue, Vin Scully reminded us of the infinite potential of an Opening Day. The reverence of the man was apparent throughout the ballpark – everybody stopped what they were doing and listened as Vin took us through the story of a young Wally Moon in his rookie year in St. Louis, how Moon took the place of a very popular Cardinal (Enos Slaughter, in case you missed it,) and how at first fans had a hard time accepting that the Cardinals had gotten rid of Slaughter and took it out on Moon. Moon then won them over by hitting a home run on the first pitch he saw, and went on to a career that included 3 All Star Appearances, and later 3 World Championships with the Dodgers and a reputation for his “Moon Shots” over the left field screen in the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum.
As it turned out, the now-87 year old Moon was in the park to throw out the first pitch, along with long-time Dodger manager and franchise fixture Tommy Lasorda. But before cutting to that first pitch, Vin handed off the broadcast, both literally and symbolically, to new Dodger lead broadcaster Joe Davis. As Slaughter gave way to Moon, and fans came to root for him, Scully now gives way to Davis. Joe Davis is a fine young broadcaster in his own right with the toughest act to follow in the history of sports broadcasting. Some say his pre-game preparation and attention to detail mimic that of the legend he is replacing behind the mic. He brings his own style and his own way of calling the game, and it may seem foreign to Dodger fans who have sat down to hear Scully’s stories over the years. But in some ways, maybe Dodger fans needed some reassurance from their old friend to begin to get to know their new one, and Davis handled his first Opening Day the best way Joe Davis could.
Moon and Lasorda threw their first pitches, announced “It’s Time For Dodger Baseball!” and soon thereafter, the team took the field and the game was quickly underway.
After striking out the Manuel Margot to start the game, Kershaw got a routine grounder to Corey Seager off the bat of Wil Myers that turned out to be anything but routine. A poor throw by Seager resulted in an error and Myers wound up on second. A wild pitch moved Myers to third, and a base hit by Yangervis Solarte brought Myers home for an early 1-0 lead. Padres pitcher Jhoulys Chacin set the Dodgers down quickly in their half of the first.
After that, Kershaw settled in, retiring the next 17 Padres batters he faced.
The Dodgers got their first run off Chacin in the bottom of the second. A ground rule double by Adrian Gonzalez followed by a single in his first Dodger at bat by off-season acquisition Logan Forsythe was cashed in when Joc Pederson hit a sacrifice fly to right-center field.
After that, it was all Dodgers.
Forsythe made a brilliant defensive play in the third, diving to make a stop and using his glove to flip the ball to Gonzalez for an out, robbing Travis Jankowski of a possible drag bunt single.
Then in the bottom of the fourth, after Chacin retired Andrew Toles and Corey Seager to start the inning, the next three Dodgers reached base. Chacin fell behind Joc Pederson 3-1, and Pederson took a chest-high 3-1 fastball and drilled it into the stands near the right field foul pole, bringing the crowd to its feet and giving the Dodgers a 5-1 lead. Yasmani Grandal immediately followed with a shot around the foul pole of his own to make the lead 6-1.
Justin Turner had an RBI double, Corey Seager hit a 3 run home run, and Grandal would eventually homer from the right side of the plate with a runner on as every Dodger regular got at least one hit and scored at least one run, including Kershaw. The only blip in Kershaw’s day was a 2 out home run allowed to Padres 3rd baseman Ryan Schimpf, one of the few bright spots for the Friars on what was otherwise a long afternoon. Kershaw struck out 8, walked none, and gave up a mere two hits in seven innings of work, the Schimpf homer the lone earned run he allowed.
It was Kershaw’s 7th Opening Day start. How dominant has he been? Giving up the lone earned run actually raised Kershaw’s career Opening Day ERA from 0.93 to 0.99. With the victory, Kershaw now sports a 5-0 Opening Day record over 7 starts (all consecutive) and the Dodgers have gone on to win all 7 of those games, the longest current Opening Day winning streak in Major League Baseball.
Jhoulys Chacin surrendered 9 earned runs on 8 hits and 2 walks allowed on 3 1/3 innings after looking good the first few innings. He took the loss.
Overall, it was a tremendous Opening Day in Los Angeles. Offensively, the team clicked and took advantage of a Padres pitching staff that appears to lack depth and direction. The bullpen didn’t have to do much work, with Chris Hatcher eating the last two innings and preserving the other arms for the rest of the series. Logan Forsythe is as advertised: a gritty, hustling second baseman who has quality at-bats, finds his way on base, scores runs, and goes all-out on defense. Joc Pederson and Yasmani Grandal seem to be taking their responsibilities in the Dodger lineup seriously and could be poised for breakout seasons. Corey Seager looked a little rusty in the field coming back from an oblique injury that sidelined him for four weeks during spring but showed that his bat is fine. And Clayton Kershaw is still Clayton Kershaw.
One down. 161 to go. And maybe more.