Bay Area Baseball

Follow the latest news and notes on the San Francisco Giants and the Oakland Athletics

April 1, 2013
Giants: Opening day runs gamut for Kontos, Sandoval, Cain

1.jpegLOS ANGELES -- George Kontos said he couldn't tell right away if the ball left Clayton Kershaw's bat with enough on it to clear the fence in the deepest part of Dodger Stadium. When it disappeared over the center-field wall, though, the Giants' reliever said he wasn't altogether surprised.

"It was a two-seamer that flattened out and he just put a good swing on it," Kontos said. "He's a big, strong guy. So you make a mistake, he's going to put a good swing on it."

Kershaw's first career home run broke a scoreless tie and proved to be all the support he needed on opening day at Dodger Stadium. The left-hander again played Giants nemesis by throwing a complete-game shutout in a 4-0 win, lowering his career ERA against San Francisco to 1.28 -- best by any pitcher with at least 50 innings against the Giants.

But it was what Kershaw did with the first pitch of the bottom of the eighth that made it a truly special -- and historic -- day for him. Kershaw jumped on Kontos' fastball so forcefully that catcher Buster Posey later said he figured Kershaw was "swinging pretty much no matter what."

It was the second extra-base hit of Kershaw's career. In 334 previous plate appearances, including his first two Monday, he had a double -- that was it. Major League Baseball tweeted Kershaw is the second pitcher since 1921 to throw a complete game and homer on opening day, joining Bob Lemon in 1953. He's also the first Dodgers pitcher to hit a home run on opening day since Don Drysdale in 1965.

"He did it all today," Giants manager Bruce Bochy said. "Shut us out, hit a home run. That's not something we expected obviously and it kind of changed that inning.

"George has been throwing the ball very well. He just laid it in there and (Kershaw) took advantage of it."

Kontos said he wasn't surprised to be facing Kershaw, who had thrown just 85 pitches through eight innings. And he wasn't surprised that Kershaw put a good swing on a pitch that ran back over the heart of the plate.

"This is the big leagues," Kontos said. "Guys are going to do that to you."

Kontos had retired the Dodgers in order in the seventh. After Kershaw's home run, he allowed a double to Carl Crawford on a decent sinker that Crawford fought off to left field and then a single to Mark Ellis on a bunt that Posey dove for but couldn't catch. That put a sour end to Kontos' opening day experience.

"It was a great atmosphere in the ballpark. It was definitely an experience - before my outing - that I'll never forget," Kontos said.

"I just wish the results were a little bit different."

* For a player shaking off two weeks worth of rust and drawing Kershaw as an opening-day test, Pablo Sandoval acquitted himself pretty well Monday.

Sandoval had two of the Giants' four hits off Kershaw, singling in the first and seventh innings. Aside from two at-bats in last Friday's exhibition game -- both of which he took left-handed -- Sandoval was getting his first at-bats in a game since injuring his right elbow March 16.

"Lucky," Sandoval said, grinning. He then said that while he was concentrating the past couple weeks on getting healthy for opening day, he felt his timing was still there from winter ball and the World Baseball Classic.

Sandoval said his elbow is no longer bothering him. He appeared to shake the arm after several throws Monday, including one that he one-hopped to first after charging a Matt Kemp grounder. But he attributed that to the layoff.

"I have to get the rhythm again to throw to the base," he said.

Manager Bruce Bochy said before the game the Giants would monitor Sandoval this week and his availability could be day-to-day. But he said Sandoval came out of the game fine.

"(The trainers will) let me know if something's bothering him or if he needs to come off the field," Bochy said. "As far as I know he feels great and he had a good game."

* After allowing three baserunners in the first inning of his first career opening day start, Matt Cain settled down to allow just three more over his final five innings. Cain said he was "out of whack" to start the game, but striking out Kemp in an 11-pitch at-bat for the first out helped him "figure a little bit of what I wanted to do."

Cain made some of his best pitches in pressure situations. He stranded two runners in the fourth by retiring Luis Cruz and A.J. Ellis on infield pop-ups and erased a leadoff double in the sixth, striking out Adrian Gonzalez and Andre Ethier looking as his final hitters.

"He had gone far enough his first outing," Bochy said of Cain, who threw 93 pitches. "He did his job. It's a long season. You look at the big picture."

Cain said he enjoyed his first opening-day start. "You always kind of wonder what it feels like to do it," he said. "There's a lot of hype going on with it, and a little bit of over-reporting probably, but that's the fun part of it."

* Kershaw's heroics aside, it should be noted this was a classic, quick-moving pitcher's duel between him and Cain for the first six innings, when the two combined for 13 strikeouts and seven balls allowed out of the infield.

A couple Giants said after the game that with the pitching staffs these two teams have assembled, it may well have set the tone for what their meetings will be like the rest of the season.

"When you have two good staffs like both clubs have, yeah, I think the majority of the games you expect to be low-scoring," Bochy said. "You have to execute, and that's what it's going to take to win a lot of these ballgames. You get a home run like they did, that's the difference in a game like this."

Posey added: "I feel like there'll probably be a lot of tight games," Posey said. "I think that will probably be the theme with us."

* The Dodgers really went all out with their "A Whole New Blue" campaign before the game. Opening day festivities included a video montage of L.A. celebrities (Kobe Bryant, Blake Griffin, George Lopez, Snoop Dogg, Wayne Gretzky and Kareem Abdul Jabbar included) exhorting the Dodgers, a performance in center field by the Blue Man Group and a memorable first pitch.

Co-owner Magic Johnson took the mound, apparently to deliver the pitch, with former Dodger Orel Hershiser set up behind the plate. Before Johnson could throw, though, manager Don Mattingly came out of the dugout and called for a reliever. Hall of Famer Sandy Koufax then walked out of the dugout, introduced over the loudspeaker by Vin Scully, and headed to the mound to deliver the pitch.

Koufax threw it in on a bounce. Didn't matter. Kershaw made everybody in the stadium forget about anything else.

-- Matt Kawahara

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About Bay Area Baseball

Matt KawaharaMatt Kawahara was born in Sacramento and attended McClatchy High School and UC Berkeley, where he wrote for the independent student paper The Daily Californian. He graduated from Cal in 2010 and started at The Sacramento Bee as a summer intern. He joined The Bee’s sports staff in fall 2011.
Email: mkawahara@sacbee.com.
Phone: (916) 321-1015.
On Twitter: @matthewkawahara.

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