March 2011

Donnie Baseball wins debut

With only an unearned run for support, Clayton Kershaw fired seven scoreless innings Thursday as the Dodgers edged the World Series champion Giants and ace Tim Lincecum, 2-1, presenting new manager Don Mattingly with an Opening Day first victory.

The 23-year-old Kershaw, the youngest Opening Day starter for the Dodgers since Fernando Valenzuela in 1983, struck out nine and allowed four hits with one walk. He outdueled Lincecum, the two-time Cy Young Award winner, who also went seven innings with five strikeouts, five hits and three walks.

— Ken Gurnick

E equals W for Padres

An error by Cardinals shortstop Ryan Theriot in the 11th inning on Thursday helped the Padres to a 5-3 victory before a sold-out crowd of 46,368 at Busch Stadium.

Chase Headley scored from third base when Theriot botched the relay throw back into the infield after a single by Cameron Maybin. Nick Hundley drove in a run later in the inning for the final margin.

The Cardinals (0-1) took a 3-2 lead into the ninth inning before Ryan Franklin allowed a home run to Maybin with two outs in the inning.

The Cardinals got three hits from Matt Holliday, including a solo home run in the bottom of the eighth inning.

— Corey Brock

Halo 2011!

Pitching, defense and power carried the Angels to an impressive 4-2 Opening Day decision over the Royals under threatening skies at Kauffman Stadium.

Jered Weaver, the Majors’ 2010 strikeout king, was on his game, and Torii Hunter and Jeff Mathis smacked solo home runs to lead the assault against Royals starter Luke Hochevar.

Hunter’s 446-blast to dead center – his third career Opening Day homer and second in Kansas City — snapped a scoreless duel in the fourth.

— Lyle Spencer

Mattingly ready

Don Mattingly said he was “definitely excited” as first pitch approached for his first game as Dodgers manager Thursday. He bought a luxury box for the “20 to 30” family and friends who traveled for his debut. “I feel a little better than I thought I would,” he said. “I thought I’d be more edgy.”

He said predecessor Joe Torre called earlier in the week to wish him luck “before going to Hawaii.” He said Torre also “scolded” him for the Dodgers’ bench-clearing confrontation with the Padres Saturday, the second such incident for the Dodgers this spring.

“I didn’t mind what happened the other day,” said Mattingly, who earlier said he liked the “spirit” his team showed in an exchange of hit batters that resulted in umpire warnings to both clubs.

— Ken Gurnick

The thrill of victory, the agony of defeat

While Ramon Hernandez celebrates, Prince Fielder walks off the field. (AP)

Padres look stronger up the middle

It wasn’t more than two days after the 2010 regular season ended when Padres general manager Jed Hoyer told reporters that he wanted the team to be stronger up the middle in 2011.

Hoyer then went out and traded for center fielder Cameron Maybin and shortstop Jason Bartlett and signed free second second baseman Orlando Hudson.

All three have made nice first impressions on Opening Day, as Maybin had a sliding catch in shallow center field on the first play of the game.

Bartlett and Hudson — with an assist to pitcher Tim Stauffer, of course — have combined to turn three double plays through the first five innings of Thursday’s game.

Strong up the middle, indeed.

— Corey Brock

Hunter comes out smokin’

Three hours before the season opener at Kauffman Stadium, Torii Hunter was talking about how nice it would be to get that first hit out of the way so he could “relax and just play the game.”

It took Hunter two at-bats. Leading off the fourth inning against Luke Hochhevar, Hunter launched one 446 feet over the wall in dead center, giving Jered Weaver the lead. In his next at-bat, Hunter singled to left center, but the Angels left two stranded.

“I’ve been hitting the ball hard,” Hunter said before the game. “You like to get your swing right before the season starts. It’s like Muhammad Ali when he was training for a fight. He didn’t want to peak too soon. He wanted to be ready for the bell.”

Hunter clearly was ready for the bell and came out smokin’ like Ali’s old adversary, Joe Frazier. — Lyle Spencer

It’s a walk-off!

Ramon Hernandez sent Cincinnati fans home happy with two-out, three-run homer off Brewers closer John Axford in the bottom of the ninth inning. Watch Hernandez’s walk-off shot.

Sweeney recalls first game for KC

Mike Sweeney, in Kansas City to throw out the ceremonial first pitch on Opening Day, recalled his first game in the Majors for the Royals.

It was late in the 1995 season during a doubleheader against the Blue Jays.

“Believe it or not, I was thrown in as a defensive replacement. They thought I was a pretty good catcher back then,” Sweeney recalled. “Paul Molitor hit a chopper down the third-base line and I threw a ball up the first-base line and made an error. And I got fined in Kangaroo Court for having more Major League errors than hits.”

At that point, Sweeney turned to his young son, Michael, and asked him if he wanted to be a Major League player. “Yes,” the boy replied.

Sweeney said, despite the error, his first game was special.

“It was all you dream of and more,” he said.

–Dick Kaegel

Grand start for Yankees

Curtis Granderson may have been surprised to have made it into the Yankees’ lineup on Thursday, but there was no doubt about his home run that pushed his team ahead on Opening Day.

Cleared to begin the season after mending a strained oblique muscle quicker than anticipated, Granderson connected off ex-Yankee Phil Coke for a solo seventh-inning homer, nudging New York ahead en route to a 6-3 victory over the Tigers.

It was the third consecutive Opening Day home run for Granderson, who was dealt to the Yankees in December 2009 as the biggest chip in a three-way trade that also sent Coke to the Tigers from New York.

Granderson also made two ridiculous catches in center — one in the first inning and the other a Willie Mays-esque grab in the ninth.

Mark Teixeira’s three-run home run in the third inning accounted for the Yankees’ scoring against Justin Verlander, who walked four and struck out eight.

–Bryan Hoch