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It all works, as Dodgers find an opening and take it

Clayton Kershaw outduels the Giants' Tim Lincecum, Matt Kemp plays both patiently and aggressively, and Jonathan Broxton hangs on for the save in opening-day victory.

April 01, 2011|BILL PLASCHKE

It started with the starting lineup, Don Mattingly forgoing the usual manager's trot to home plate, instead running down the third base line to shake hands with all the reserves and club personnel who had been introduced before him.

I've never seen that before, have you?

It closed with the chilling closer, Jonathan Broxton giving up a liner into the left-field seats but somehow managing to trudge off the mound in possession of both his skin and a save.

It feels as though I've never seen that before, either.

The Dodgers threw open their doors to a rave new world Thursday, one momentarily devoid of divorce and debt and designer haircuts, one in which they smartly fitted the defending World Series champions with their championship wrings.

As in: The San Francisco Giants will be wringing their hands over a 2-1 loss to a running, scheming, power-tossing team that we haven't seen around here since before Manny Ramirez was trying to get pregnant.

No telling how much more we'll see of it this summer, but, for one warm evening in front of a bunch of red-faced Giants, it was sort of nice.

"I know this much," said Tony Gwynn Jr." You win your first game, you won't go 0-162."

After enduring a winter dominated by tales of an owner who prefers to build mansions instead of victories, Dodger fans will take that guarantee.

Granted, Dodger Stadium was dotted with empty seats Thursday, there were half-price suites already being offered on the scoreboard, and owner Frank McCourt showed up barely 20 minutes before the first pitch and was never announced or put on the scoreboard. And, yes, the fans cheered almost tentatively, almost as if they are unwilling to fall so quickly in love with a roster that seems so tenuous and threadbare.

But cheer they did, for a mostly wide-eyed team that happily shrugged as everything worked.

Clayton Kershaw worked. Yeah, four years after he first stepped onto a Dodger Stadium mound, he's all grown up, from young sighs to Cy Young. On a day that would have once cracked him, he refused to back down to freaky Giant Tim Lincecum, dueling him for five scoreless innings before the Giants blinked first, finishing by allowing only two decent hits -- four hits total -- in seven innings with nine strikeouts.

As cool as he appeared on the mound, he was even calmer later in front of his locker, in shorts and a T-shirt and a scruffy bearded grin.

"I guess you could say I'm more comfortable out there," he said.

Matt Kemp worked. Perhaps finally weary of trying to impress us with only his pounding swing, he won this game with his patience and persistence. He not only drew a career-high three walks, but he turned one of them into the pivotal first run with career-high smarts.

With one out in the sixth inning, he drew a walk after falling behind one-and-two, drew it by actually holding up on one of those outside pitches that sucker him so much. After he moved to third on a Giants fielding error, he took a lead so long, he coaxed Giant catcher Buster Posey into making a horrific pickoff attempt. It had no shot even if it had not bounced past a stunned third baseman Pablo Sandoval and into foul territory, allowing Kemp to walk home.

"I was shocked he made that throw," said third base coach Tim Wallach."It was Matt's aggressiveness that made that happen."

Jonathan Broxton worked. Well, OK, maybe not totally. Can we get back to you on that later, seeing as his 17-pitch save included a Pat Burrell home run that filled the house with familiar groans?

But, more than anything, Don Mattingly worked. From his pregame handshakes to his momentary postgame confusion over the game ball, the new Dodgers manager brought an earthy style that was lacking in the final year under a tired Joe Torre.

About the handshakes: "I wanted to go down to the kids at the end of the line because, to me, we're all one."

About the game ball: "I don't know what I did with it, to tell you the truth....Oh, wait, I gave it to Mitch [Poole, clubhouse manager]; he's going to paint on it."

It is Mattingly's mandate that the Dodgers play more aggressively, yet he credited new first base coach Davey Lopes with that change.

"It's Davey bringing back Dodger baseball," he said.

It was Mattingly's idea to start Gwynn in left field, instead of Marcus Thames, for defense and speed -- even though Thames had hit Lincecum better -- and yet he credited Gwynn with hustling the Giants into one of their three errors. It was a third-inning single in which he wound up on second after Andres Torres bobbled the ball in center field.

"Gwynn runs dead out of the box, that's the only way that happens," Mattingly said. "That sort of aggressiveness sets the tone."

For one day, anyway, the tone here was a bright one. The uncertain Dodgers needed it. Their fretting fans wanted it. The festooned ballpark deserved it.

Now, please, take the "Don't Stop Believing Guy" off the dugout and put him back into the seats where his act can keep its spontaneous charm, and we're good.

bill.plaschke@latimes.com

twitter.com/billplaschke

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