Kershaw rounding the bases after hitting his first career home run.-Jayne Kamin-Oncea-USA TODAY Sports

Clayton Kershaw's Opening Day Homerun Started it All

During a special season there are certain special moments which should be bookmarked as pivotal points or peaks within a long and grueling season full of valleys and plateaus. The optimism surrounding this 2013 Dodgers team was unlike any other in the franchise’s history. Finally emerging from the dark days of bankruptcy, Frank McCourt’s curse, and stagnant standings, the Dodgers were ready to begin April with mountains of cash, new high-dollar players on their roster, and most importantly a fresh start for their fans. The fans came back. Some never left, but on Opening Day 2013 some estranged Dodger fans made their way back to Chavez Ravine where they had chosen not to spend their hard earned money in order to make a statement against McCourt and his headline divorce which sapped the Dodgers team of funds and fun. This season was entitled “A Whole New Blue.” While Opening Day sure seemed to back up this slogan with a win over the reigning World Champs and pumpkin colored foes thanks to a magnificent start and epic homerun by Dodgers ace Clayton Kershaw, the season would quickly sour.

83-56. It’s hard to dwell on the past, but the story of this season wouldn’t be as sweet if we didn’t look to

ClaYton Kershaw on the Mound Photo By: Stacie Wheeler

ClaYton Kershaw on the Mound Photo By: Stacie Wheeler

where we had been. Mired in last place, the Dodgers season seemed to be doomed back in May. April and May were dark days indeed. Injuries abounded and the Dodgers looked terrible. Fans were turning on each other, and some even were calling for Don Mattingly‘s job. We will never know just how close Don Mattingly came to losing his position as skipper during that down time, but like a lot of others I too questioned Mattingly’s competence during this time. Don’t get me wrong, I still don’t like the bunting, double switches, and the bullpen management at times, but Donnie really impressed with his fortitude and his dedication to this team. He still has a lot to learn in just his third season as a big league manager, but just like anyone else who has had rough times in their career, Donnie has never given up along the journey.

Andre Ethier and Don Mattingly had a bit of a butting of heads during perhaps the bleakest time of the season. Ethier, who has been known to be somewhat of a hot head, took Mattingly’s words as constructive criticism instead of lashing back. Ethier, who has filled in at center filled during Matt Kemp‘s absence admirably, showed Mattingly and his teammates that he could be a leader on this team. Ethier’s solid performance in center field, and his offensive turnaround since that pivotal moment of the season, has been a huge contributing factor to the success of this ball club this season. Although many called for Ethier’s trade, without Dre the Dodgers would have had Skip Schumaker, center fielder. He may not hit 30 homeruns this season, but his contributions  have still been extremely valuable. In fact, no one on this playoff bound team may touch 30 homeruns. The team leader is Adrian Gonzalez with 19 homeruns.

 

Kenley Jansen is one of the best closers in the game. Photo: Howard Smith-USA TODAY Sports

I heard Ron Cey on the radio talking about the success of this team, and he pointed out that they are much different than his 1977 team where four Dodgers (Cey, Garvey, Baker, and Smith) all hit 30 homeruns or more. This Dodgers team excels in pitching. The glorious pitching has overcome the Dodgers shortcomings on the base path and defense. The starting rotation and dominant bullpen has had one of the best second halves I have ever witnessed, and they will hopefully continue to throw strikes well into October. The Dodgers bullpen, anchored by Kenley Jansen and Paco Rodriguez, really turned things around after those two horrific months. With the demotion of Brandon League and the cutting loose of Matt Guerrier, the Dodger bullpen was bolstered by Chris Withrow, Brian Wilson, Ronald Belisario‘s improvement, and Kenley Jansen’s shift back into his rightful role as closer. Jansen has been almost unhittable this season. The converted catcher who underwent heart surgery this past offseason has emerged as one of the premiere closers in the game. With a 1.97 ERA and 13.1 SO/9, the right-hander from Curacao has only walked 13 while striking out an even 100 batters. He’s been incredible, and the Dodgers will look to use their strikeout machine to close out games in the postseason.

The starting rotation has also been lights out this season, but it has been a long road of beaten and battered starters which were left along the wayside along the trek. Josh Beckett was trying to pitch through nerve issues at the start of the season, and he succumbed to season-ending surgery, and then the disastrous brawl with San Diego left the Dodgers second ace Zack Greinke on the disabled list with a broken collarbone. Once the Dodgers regained Greinke (who has just won the N.L. Pitcher of the Month award for August), and they shored up the backend of the rotation by acquiring Ricky Nolasco (who has exceeded all expectations), the Dodgers rotation has become one of the best in the league.

Clayton Kershaw, M.V.P. I know that some feel that pitchers shouldn’t be considered for the M.V.P. award, and Adrian Gonzalez “Mr. Reliable” is the frontrunner for the acclaim, but Kershaw has really been the rock of this team both on the mound, at the plate, and in the dugout. Kershaw is just good at everything, and he’s one of the best baseball players I have ever seen play in my lifetime. His pitching prowess is extraordinary and harkens us back to the days of Sandy Koufax. The southpaw will certainly collect the Cy Young Award, but his killer curve ball isn’t the only weapon of mass destruction that he possesses.

Kershaw’s Opening Day homerun sparked it all. Scott and I watched the beautiful homerun fly over the

Don Mattingly readies to make his postseason debut as a manager. Photo: Steve Mitchell-USA TODAY Sports

center field wall at Dodger Stadium that cornflower blue skied day. It was breath taking. It seemed almost in slow motion, and the electricity of the crowd was exhilarating. At that moment, I think we both knew that this season was something special.

We have waited so very long for this. I was nine years old in 1988. My brother’s Dodger pennant hung up on his room listed the Dodgers, and I often reread the names to myself. Mike Scioscia was my favorite player, Orel Hershiser was Scott’s. Being a child at that time was magical. My Dodgers were champions. I was too young to remember ’81, but this time I was able to celebrate the Dodgers the only way a child could. Collecting baseball cards, playing catch in the backyard, and watching the Dodgers on TV or on the radio was a summer routine. Scott and I even “took score” in notebooks of during the games.

Now this 2013 team could be The One for this generation. My daughters have been born into Blue, and watching them root for Clayton Kershaw and A.J. Ellis is so reminiscent of Scott and I cheering for Orel Hershiser and Mike Scioscia.

My daughter asks me every night: “Did the Dodgers win?”

I would love nothing more to tell her on October 31st that yes, yes the Dodgers won.

Tags: Clayton Kershaw Los Angeles Dodgers

comments powered by Disqus