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Did Dodgers just see Sandy Koufax pass baton to Clayton Kershaw?

April 02, 2013|By Steve Dilbeck
  • Dodgers legend Sandy Koufax throws out the first pitch on opening day against the San Francisco Giants.
Dodgers legend Sandy Koufax throws out the first pitch on opening day against… (Luis Sinco / Los Angeles…)

It was staged and hokey, and similar to what had been done in the past. Really, there was only one thing that made it special.

On opening day, Magic Johnson stood on the mound to throw out the ceremonial first pitch and kept shaking off his catcher, Orel Hershiser. So Manager Don Mattingly strode to the mound, took the ball from Magic, turned to the dugout and signaled for a left-hander.

And out stepped Sandy Koufax.

Pure chills. The greatest left-hander in team and baseball history, dressed in a vintage Dodgers jersey, walked to the mound and the stadium was electric.

Then the game started, and out came left-hander Clayton Kershaw, razor focused, in complete command, simply dominating a team that when last seen was celebrating the winning of a World Series.

The link was impossible to miss.

Koufax's heir apparent threw an opening-day, four-hit shutout. Threw the kind of game a pitcher’s not supposed to be able to pull off in his first game of the season. All with Koufax there to take it all in.

"It made the day complete," said catcher A.J. Ellis. "With him throwing out the first pitch and then Clayton throwing the last pitch. I mean, that was almost a passing-of-the-torch-type day.

"These two iconic Dodgers’ lefties are linked in the same day, and pitching off the same mound. It's pretty surreal, and I'm just blown away that I was even a small part of it."

Kershaw, of course, is only 25 and ever respectful of all that Koufax accomplished, and what he means to fans and the organization. And he seems slightly uncomfortable at the suggestions he is the next Koufax.

"Obviously I'm honored at the comparisons," Kershaw said. "But I don't put any merit into it. It's not fair to Sandy."

Yet it is not just being left-handed or their outstanding curveballs or pitching for the same team that draws comparisons. It is their will to win. Their ability to shut out everything and focus. To want the ball.

It seemed so clear on a crisp Monday afternoon at Dodger Stadium, a place Koufax helped make a Los Angeles institution. A place Kershaw now calls home.

"I'd be lying if I said it didn't flash through my mind there in about the sixth, that this guy is rolling along and Sandy threw out the first pitch today," Mattingly said. "[But] it's probably not fair to Clayton right now to throw that on him."

Koufax, however, did not truly become a dominant pitcher until he was 25. Then he put together the six greatest consecutive seasons in baseball history. Kershaw won a Cy Young at age 23 and came in second last year.

"Sandy is awesome," Kershaw said. "I don't think of him as this historic person, just because I get to be around him so much. But I understand what he means to the Dodgers. As long as he's around, I think the Dodgers will be in good shape."

There is one area, however, Kershaw already exceeds Koufax -- batting. Koufax hit .097 in his career. Kershaw has batted .217 the past two seasons.


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