LOS ANGELES — Sandy Koufax provided the feel-good moment of Monday’s Opening Day at Dodger Stadium, throwing out the first pitch in a surprise switch with Lakers Hall of Famer and Dodgers part-owner Magic Johnson.
Then, the young man often compared with the legendary lefty did the rest — with his arm and bat.
Clayton Kershaw threw a complete game shutout — the sixth of his career — and hit the game-deciding home run as the Dodgers beat the reigning World Champion San Francisco 4-0. Kershaw became the first pitcher to hit a homer and toss a shutout since Hall of Famer Bob Lemon did it for Cleveland in 1953.
He also became just the fifth pitcher ever to throw an Opening Day shutout at Dodger Stadium — Fernando Valenzuela was the last to do it, defeating Houston 2-0 in 1981.
While Kershaw was happy with the win, he said he was more than a bit surprised with his home run off Giants reliever George Kontos.
“Shocked is more like it,” said the 25-year-old left-hander, who had never hit a major league homer and had just one extra base hit in 261 career at-bats before Monday. “I didn’t know if it was going to go out or not because I’d never hit one like that. I really didn’t know what to expect.
“Obviously I’m honored by the comparison,” the 2011 NL Cy Young Award winner said following the game. “I just don’t want to disrespect Sandy. He doesn’t deserve that.
“He was the best left-handed pitcher ever, so for somebody to (make that comparison) is kind of disrespecting him. I don’t put any merit into it because I’ve still got a really long way to go.”
Dodgers manager Don Mattingly wasn’t at all hesitant to discuss Koufax and Kershaw.
“Joe (Torre) made those comparisons pretty early on in Clayton’s career,” Mattingly said. “Joe talked about how they were similar with the way they pitched.
“And I’d be lying if I said it didn’t cross my mind out there in the sixth inning when Clayton was just rolling along, and Sandy had thrown out the first pitch today. It probably isn’t fair to Clayton to make those comparisons, but the way he was pitching out there made me think about it during the game.”
While it will take more years for Kershaw to find his place in Dodgers — and baseball — history, it probably won’t be very long until his bank account gains many more zeros.
Even though he said after the win that he didn’t want to talk about a contract extension “today,” reports are circulating that he and the Dodgers are very close to agreement on a new deal. It could keep the ace of the staff in Dodgers blue for the next decade, and he will certainly eclipse the highest yearly salary of any pitcher who’s ever played the game — likely well over $200 million.
Dodgers Chairman Mark Walter said recently that Kershaw was the epitome of the kind of player the Dodgers want on their team “and if we can’t take care of someone like that, who do we take care of?”
OPENING DAY NOTES — Giants starter Matt Cain pitched nearly as well as Kershaw (1-0), striking out 8 in six innings. He gave up just four hits and walked one. Kontos (0-1) was the loser. … Dodgers co-owner Magic Johnson was ecstatic with not only the win, but the enthusiasm shown by the fans. “There were people tailgating early this morning, and that hasn’t happened here in a long time,” Johnson said. “This is the way it’s supposed to be here. This is the Dodgers, and the fans are responding to everything we’re trying to do to make this a better team and overall experience. It’s going to be a great year.”