By Jon Weisman
Every season, every single season in this glorious era of Clayton Kershaw, it’s impertinent to ask whether he can top himself. How can you demand more of someone who has perched at the summit so long, we’re all losing oxygen?
It seems gauche even to hope Kershaw can match his performance from previous years, during which he led the Majors in ERA for four of the past five seasons and had a 1.99 FIP in the year he didn’t.
And yet out comes Kershaw in San Diego, into the gloaming as he begins what unbelievably is his ninth big-league campaign. And as he has he before, he picks up the thread from the last season like it is one continuous stitch.
In the last meaningful regular-season game he pitched in 2015, he allowed one hit and one walk, pitching the Dodgers to a National League West-clinching victory.
In his seven innings tonight, while the Dodgers built a 15-0 lead, Kershaw allowed one hit and one walk, pitching the Dodgers toward a sixth consecutive Opening Day victory.
Kershaw, who was removed after 96 pitches and nine strikeouts, came tantalizingly close to an Opening Day perfect game. His walk, to Yangervis Solarte in the second inning came after a 2-1 check swing was ruled a ball. The hit, by Jon Jay in the third inning, came on a calmly hit ball that left fielder Carl Crawford never saw in the dusk before bouncing into left field.
Kershaw retired the last 13 batters he faced. His career Opening Day ERA went down to 0.93, approximately one-hundreth worse than MLB record-holder Rick Mahler.
“Whether Crawford could have caught that ball that was hit by Jon Jay we’ll never know, but it stands out now like a missing front tooth,” said Vin Scully, beginning his 67th season with the Dodgers in vintage form.
To be fair, Kershaw also benefited from a hard smash in the fifth inning by Solarte that went directly into the glove of third baseman Justin Turner’s glove. He also wasn’t locating in ideal fashion at the outset, with only 14 of his 27 pitches in the first two innings going for strikes.
But rather than parse the perfect game possibilities, it’s more than sufficient to bask in the glow of Kershaw’s grand beginning to another season.
“Just a fun day,” Kershaw said after the game. “Just any time you get two runs early in the first, and we just kept adding on, adding on, so for me, just trying to have quick innings, get our guys back in the dugout and let ’em swing the bats. Fifteen — hopefully you can make it stand up.”
He even contributed a hit and a run to the Dodgers’ startling offensive attack, something that has earned its own separate, forthcoming post …