Clayton Kershaw. That is all.
The downside of opening day – if there is such a thing – is in being prone to a Cy Young Award-winning stud on his a-game and having the game of his life. And while the Giants are no strangers to dominant Dodgers southpaws, one must wonder if the reigning World Champions would have been better off going up against Sandy Koufax or Fernando Valenzuela in their respective primes to open the 2013 season. Because Monday it seemed like the Giants were facing an amalgam of both.
But, Kershaw’s brilliant shutout gem speaks for itself. The lefthander had all his pitches working, hit the go-ahead home run, and even caused Giants color commentator Mike Krukow to have to issue an uncharacteristic correction by noting Kershaw’s eighth-inning solo bomb was the first of the young phenom’s career.
More compelling (and more cathartic) methinks is to scrutinize Dodgers cornerstone slugger Matt Kemp. For personal reasons, I’ve always had a bit of a chip on my shoulder when it comes to Kemp. Back when he was first breaking into the big leagues, he shot down my Myspace friend request. I’ve carried around the quiet shame of being cyber-slighted ever since.
But now, in addition to feeling slighted, I have a baseball gripe to vent. It’s something of a recurring dichotomy in professional sports. That being – fundamental approach vs. superstar ambition.
In the sixth inning of Monday’s opener, with Kershaw and Matt Cain locked in a brilliant scoreless pitching duel, the Dodgers got their best offensive opportunity of the game when Giants right fielder Hunter Pence lost a ball in the sun, enabling Mark Ellis to motor into second base with a leadoff double.
So, Kemp came to the plate with Ellis on second on no outs. And in being careful to the Dodgers’ marquee slugger, Cain fell behind in the count to 2-1. With Kemp crowding the plate as he is notorious for doing, Cain threw a lazy little slider to the outside corner. Kemp saw it early and looked to tee off, but got out front just enough that he pulled the gimme offering foul.
What made it a gimme offering is that Cain was essentially giving the Dodgers a runner-at-third-with-one-out opportunity. All Kemp had to do was give himself up, ground the ball to the right side, and move Ellis over to third. That would be the fundamental approach.
At every level other than the big leagues, such fundamentals are the essence of baseball. But not in the show. In the show, superstar ambition is a viable, accepted, and often respected approach to the game. It is even rewarded, as contract negotiations often boil down to the minutia of a few mere batting-average points, or a lone RBI that marks the difference between statistical plateaus. In the case of Kemp though, his approach is unlikely a payday ploy, as prior to the 2012 season he signed a megadeal with the Dodgers that runs thru 2019.
So, the only other fuel for the fire of superstar ambition I can figure is good, old-fashioned ego. (Matt, you’re welcome to drop me a Myspace PM and tell me otherwise.)
Kemp’s eventual sixth-inning groundout to third base may be incidental. Cain went on to shut down the heart of the Dodgers batting order by striking out Adrian Gonzalez and Andre Ethier. And the big picture regarding the Dodgers not being able to manufacture a run in the sixth may too be incidental.
Because with the way Kershaw was throwing, he could have gone 15 shutout innings. And when a team throws Sandy Koufax and Fernando Valenzuela all in one at you, it’s only a matter of time before they claim the victory.