SAN DIEGO -- Like Santa Claus and Christmas or Meryl Streep and the Academy Awards, Opening Day was made for Clayton Kershaw.
Give the offense credit for trying to make sure the focus was not all on one man, but not even the double-digit runs in a 15-0 victory could change the fact that nobody in the game right now shines brighter on the first day of the season.
Kershaw's scoreless outing was the fourth time in those last six Opening Day starts that he has held his opponent without a run. And his 0.93 ERA in those games is testament to the fact that Kershaw knows how to prepare himself both physically and mentally for the first start of the season.
“It speaks a lot to what he does on a focus and concentration level,” said catcher A.J. Ellis, who has been behind the plate for the last five of those Kershaw Opening Day starts. “A lot of us are on cloud nine just because it's Opening Day. You see pitchers all across baseball maybe a little over-amped, overthrowing, but he comes in and we're 6-0 when he throws on Opening Day.”
Kershaw laughed nervously when asked about his domination in openers, perhaps the only time he had dropped his guard all day.
“I think every day is different,” he said. “I don’t know. It’s fun to be a part of. It doesn’t really get old, so it’s fun. I’m glad I get to be out on the mound for it, for sure.”
Kershaw is a three-time Cy Young Award winner who just built a solid early foundation for a fourth honor. He is on his way to being a surefire first-ballot Hall of Famer, and he just turned 28.
About the only thing that dogs him is his 2-6 record with a 4.59 ERA in 13 playoff appearances (10 starts), but his 2.63 ERA in two starts during last year’s postseason shows he is plenty good enough to get the job done with a little offensive help.
Monday was the offense’s chance to show it's capable of giving him support.
“Yeah, it was just a fun day,” Kershaw said. “I think any time you get two runs early in the first -- and we just kept adding on and adding on. For me, I was trying to have quick innings, get our guys back in the dugout and let them swing the bats. With 15 [runs], hopefully you can make it stand up, so it feels good.”
The pitcher even got into the offensive mix himself with a single and a run scored. Before the seventh inning was complete, 10 different Dodgers players not only had hits but all also had scored runs.
“All the way down you can say everybody’s name, so it was fun to be a part of,” Kershaw said. “If we can score 15 every time, we’d be a pretty good team. We know there will be days when we have to grind it out a little bit more than we did today, but it was fun to be a part of.”
For new Dodgers manager Dave Roberts, starting Kershaw in the opener was the easiest decision he had to make. Although he delayed making it official for a few days, nobody believed he was considering any other move.
“It starts with Kersh and the tone that he set, going out there and going after guys -- that first inning, when you’ve got No. 1s [starters] going after each other,” Roberts said. “You don’t expect to get that many hits and score that many runs, but that first inning, obviously, Kersh sets the tone.”
“I asked everybody what they thought, if they thought I would have caught it, but from what I hear, I wouldn’t have caught it anyway,” Crawford said.
The shot at a no-hitter would have been nice, but nobody was kicking at the dirt over a 15-run victory. Roberts even got a postgame shower of ice-cold drinking water out of a cooler in the dugout.
“You know what, I think you always, unfairly, expect him to be great every single time he takes the mound,” Roberts said of Kershaw, whose next start is expected to come Saturday at San Francisco against Madison Bumgarner. “Tonight he was. There was a ball that, with the seats, people wearing white shirts, in the sun and that stuff, it was tough to see the ball out there. I’ve been in that outfield and it’s tough to see, but Clayton, nothing fazes him, and it’s always nice when he takes the mound.”
Ellis, who has said that catching Kershaw is like watching history unfold through a mask and from a crouch, saw yet another example of a teammate and friend that will be headed to Cooperstown one day.
“It was vintage Opening Day Clayton,” Ellis said. “He was focused and ready to go. He comes to spring training ready for Opening Day, it seems like. He had a good idea of what he wanted to do, knowing a lot of these guys already. He had a great game plan going in, and it was just about execution.”
Kershaw did his best to make it about somebody else, anybody else, which is what good team leaders do.
“I knew one guy was going to get their first win today, so I was glad it was our guy,” Kershaw said of the battle between first-year managers Roberts and Andy Green of the Padres. “I know that has to be special for him to get the first one out of the way, and now it’s just baseball.
“Get the hoopla out of the way with this one. Now he can do what he wants to do, we can do what we want to do, and I was glad I could be on the mound for it.”