With the MLB season suspended due to the coronavirus outbreak, there are no baseball games and limited baseball news. So I’m creating a hypothetical season — complete with news and recaps — until baseball resumes. All news and recaps will have the hypothetical tag, so you can at least know when you’re suspending reality. And you can click “hypothetical season” above the headline to see everything that has happened in this “season.”
After weeks of on-again, off-again showers, the skies finally cleared in LA for the best day of the year: Opening Day.
Hate the Los Angeles Dodgers all you want - and we all hate them - but there’s one thing they’re perfect at: Standing next to the San Francisco Giants on Opening Day. The sun is out, the grass is green, and two iconic jerseys stand opposed along the crisp chalk lines.
Until the game starts, of course. At that point we were reminded that the Dodgers are the reigning champions of the NL West, who finished . . . /checks notes . . . ahh yes, a mere 29 games ahead of your beloved Giants.
It wasn’t actually that bad, but I’ll stop burying the lede and get to it: The Giants lost.
At first it seemed destined for a standard game of elite team vs. bad one, which is exactly what this matchup is. Clayton Kershaw set down the Giants in order to start the game, striking out two. And then, in the bottom of the first, reigning MVP Cody Bellinger launched a no-doubt bomb off of Johnny Cueto.
How on earth could the Giants overcome a 1-0 deficit, you wondered. Especially with Kershaw on the mound, one run is just too many to muster. Their only hope had been clinging to a 0-0 tie until the Dodgers got bored and gave up.
But we were wrong! We were all wrong.
In the fourth inning, Darin Ruf came to bat. Ruf, who spent the last two seasons playing in Korea, made the Giants on the strength of a spectacular Spring Training, in which he seemingly hit multiple opposite field extra-base hits each game. Against the left-handed Kershaw, Ruf got the start in left field.
After Ruf worked the count full, Kershaw fired a challenge fastball at the letters. Ruf turned on it a little bit too much, launching a moonshot down the third base line that drifted foul but went waaaaay over the fence.
When you’re a kid, you think that a foul ball home run means that the hitter is on fire, and they’ll put the next one over the fence. When you’re an adult, you have the heartbreaking realization that the batter almost hit a home run because he almost punished a mistake, and that the pitcher, now knowing they made a mistake, won’t do that again.
Spoiler: There are a lot of similar heartbreaking realizations you have when you become an adult. Don’t do it kids. Don’t grow up. It is not fun.
But back to the game. My cynicism was proven wrong, which is rare (because I’m not usually cynical) but also not rare (because I’m not usually right). Kershaw did, indeed, recognize the error of his ways, and realized that Ruf was timed to his fastball. So the ace turned to the breaking ball that won him three Cy Young Awards.
As it has with increasing frequency the last few years, Kershaw’s breaking ball didn’t break with the snap it once did. It hung over the plate, and Ruf took it do dead center, easily clearing the wall amid a golden-green hue.
It stayed that way for a while, with Cuteo handling business with relative easy (he finished with eight punchouts), but the Dodgers rallied in the sixth, when Bellinger lasered one down the first base line for an RBI double.
Cueto’s night was then done, after 5.1 innings, marking the first time in his career that he hadn’t gone seven innings on an Opening Day start. Gabe Kapler brought out Tyler Rogers, who stranded Bellinger at second.
The Giants offense was spent after that one-run explosion in the fourth inning. Kershaw cruised through seven innings, and unlike in past years, the Dodgers bullpen was untouchable. LA added an insurance run in the eighth inning, in the form of a Justin Turner solo home run off of Trevor Gott.
That was all the scoring that would be done, as the Dodgers won 3-1, taking a commanding one-game lead in the NL West standings.
A few little notes:
- Kapler is not Bruce Bochy and Farhan Zaidi is not Bobby Evans. There will be times when that feels like a bad thing, and times when that feels like a good thing. Today it was the former, as, unlike a few years ago, Brandon Belt was not benched on Opening Day. He even drew a walk against Kershaw.
- Cueto looked good and entertaining, which bodes well for what could be a long season.
- Thank goodness for Kershaw and Buster Posey matchups. They’ll never get old, even as both players fade, and even though Kershaw got the better of Posey this time, retiring him all three times, and striking him out once.
Onto Game 2.