Friday, April 1, 2011

Well, nobody ever claimed defending a world championship was gonna be easy.

Clayton Kershaw trimmed Tim Lincecum's sails last night and the LA Dodgers won their home opener against the Giants, 2-1. To put the best possible face on it, let's hope this is the start of a season-long dogfight between Our Boys and the Hated Foe. A Giants-Dodgers pennant race is good for baseball. Did anyone else hear the LA fans chanting "Gi-ants suck!" in the ninth inning last night (to the tune of "Beat L-A!") ? And here we thought they didn't care!

Kershaw was outstanding. Most good pitchers have a low-and-away strikeout pitch they work toward in the course of an at-bat, and certainly Kershaw delivered his share of those. But last night he also was busting 'em inside for strikes, and when that happens this guy is going to be tough to beat. Lincecum, for his part, pitched reasonably well and looked stronger over the final two than the first five, though his ball-strike count was 58-45, well below his standard. Take heart, folks; when wild, he was wild high, and he looked plenty strong.

No one who saw the Giants over the course of last season could be too surprised at their inability to hit Kershaw; "recurring lack of offense" was a theme-with-variations throughout the championship campaign. But three-error games (and those were three ugly errors, sports fans) definitely were not, and absent those gaffes it's not unreasonable to suppose that Pat Burrell's homer in the top of the ninth might have broken a scoreless tie and given the game to the visitors. Buster Posey's ill-advised throw to third in the sixth inning, following Burrell's misplay of Matt Kemp's single, resulted in Lincecum's only (unearned) run allowed, and the Giants' studliest player earlier suffered what seemed to be a simple lack of concentration when he let a fastball carom off his glove for a passed ball that, fortunately, did not lead to a score.

Bright moments: the suddenly lithe and agile Pablo Sandoval spearing a wicked line drive off the bat of former Giant Juan Uribe and nearly doubling James Loney off third; Freddy Sanchez hustling past Andres Torres in center on Uribe's single, then turning and throwing out Uribe as he slid past second trying to stretch it-- the defensive play of the game; and rookie Brandon Belt beating out a grounder for his first major-league hit and later drawing the only walk issued by Kershaw.

Tonight Jonathan Sanchez goes out to even things up, with Matt Cain tomorrow and a shaken-but-not stirred Barry Zito scheduled for Sunday evening's nationally-televised series finale, pending results of an MRI following his traffic incident Wednesday night with "one of those crazy LA drivers."

And while we're generally loathe to praise anything that smacks of Dodgerdom, we heartily congratulate skipper Don Mattingly on his new job. For a few short years in the mid-1980s he was the best player in baseball, and Giants fans would do well to compare and contrast his career with that of Will Clark, who came along a few years later. Both were sweet-swinging left-handed first basemen, and both saw their greatness peak too early. Absent the injuries that ultimately shortened their careers, both Mattingly and Will would be in Cooperstown today. And while we can't exactly wish him a whole lot of success in his new endeavor, we do hope that Mattingly does well enough in LA to build and sustain a long and rewarding career as a major-league manager.

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