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New blue harmony in Dodgers' opening-day win

From Sandy Koufax to Clayton Kershaw, the Dodgers link their virtuoso past to the present in an opening-day win to remember.

April 01, 2013|Bill Plaschke

It was a mound of mystique, on a day of magic.

Sandy Koufax threw the first pitch. Clayton Kershaw threw the last pitch.

Koufax brought thousands of Dodger Stadium fans to their feet. Kershaw kept them there.

In a day filled with symmetry and sizzle, Koufax summoned memories of Dodgers greatness while Kershaw offered promise of its return Monday in the Dodgers' season-opening 4-0 victory over the defending champion San Francisco Giants.

Koufax threw a ceremonial first-pitch curveball that bounced, and Kershaw threw a bunch of them that baffled, completing a four-hit shutout that was complemented by one shout-out blast — he improbably broke a scoreless tie in the eighth inning with the first home run of his career.

The crack of the bat was so loud, it lingered. Kershaw was so stunned, he raced around the bases as if worried he would be thrown out by someone in the parking lot.

"I didn't know what I was doing," Kershaw said. "I probably wasn't even feeling my feet hit the ground."

A packed Chavez Ravine howled with hope that this new season would live up to the promise of a league-high $230-million payroll and Dodger Stadium's $100-million-plus remodel. As christenings go, this one cracked and sprayed like the breaking of a champagne bottle over a ship's hull.

"This was one of those games, everyone is going to say they were at this game," said Dodgers catcher A.J. Ellis. "I'll never forget it."

Like most chaotic openers, this one wasn't all fist pumps and high-fives. Despite the massive off-season renovations that made the 51-year-old stadium sparkle — new scoreboards, wider concourses, brighter spaces, refurbished bathrooms — fans were still plagued by the Dodgers' trademark long concession lines.

Folks on the redecorated reserved level still required as much as 30 minutes to buy a beer. Fans standing in those lines backed into the new reserved-level play area, dulling the excitement of the children's area.

The Dodgers removed TV monitors from some reserved-level areas, so some fans couldn't even watch the game while standing in those lines.

"We've spent all winter reading about these renovations, but in some places up here it's even worse," said Joe Becerra, 38, a downtown lawyer who missed several innings while standing in an "express" food line on the reserved level. "It's hard to believe they can't get this fixed."

By the time Kershaw finished pitching his shutout, though, most of those fans had navigated back to their seats and were screaming in glee at the end of a joyous afternoon. Perhaps nobody was hollering louder than Dodgers chairman Mark Walter, who, at the game's end, nearly jumped into the arms of Tom Lasorda, then raced out of his owner's box to hug several players on the field.

"It's a great day for the Dodgers to show the connection we have with this city," said Magic Johnson, another owner. "We want to show the people that we are L.A."

A day that had a Hollywood ending also had a Hollywood opening. New scoreboards exploded in color, accompanied by thumping pregame pep-rally music, some of it played by four members the Blue Man Group.

Then the Dodgers showed a video smartly concocted by young Dodgers employees Jon Chapper and Cat Belanger that featured a baseball being supposedly passed from the team's spring-training site in Phoenix to Dodger Stadium by a number of celebrities. Kobe Bryant spun the ball, Blake Griffin dunked the ball, Samuel L. Jackson drove the ball with a golf club, and Magic Johnson finally brought the ball out of the video and walked it out of the dugout to the Dodger Stadium mound.

Then the pregame ceremonies really got cool. While Johnson was preparing to throw a first pitch to former Dodgers star Orel Hershiser, Manager Don Mattingly suddenly ran to the mound. He tapped Johnson on the shoulder and held up his left hand, summoning a left-handed pitcher to replace him. The capacity crowd of 53,138 roared when the 77-year-old Koufax walked briskly out of the dugout in a yellowed Dodgers jersey and jeans.

It turns out, Koufax almost missed his cue because he was warming up in the Dodgers' new batting cage. Johnson, like everyone, was thrilled to see him.

"Sandy Koufax can take my place any time," said Johnson. "That man is Dodger history. This season we're going to try to make more Dodger history."

From Koufax to Kershaw to the enduring roars of faith, this was a pretty good start.

Twitter: @BillPlaschke

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