Exactly one week from right now, Opening Day will be over and the Dodgers will have one game under their belts. Fortunately for the Dodgers, Opening Day has historically been pretty good to them.
The Dodgers have won each of their last five Opening Day games, all behind three time Cy Young winner Clayton Kershaw. In fact, at this time next week Kershaw will have thrown his sixth consecutive Opening Day game, only one less than the Dodgers record held by Don Sutton from 1972 to 1978.
Not only that, Kershaw has been especially dominant in Opening Day games, winning all of his decisions and keeping opponents at a total of 8 runs. Kershaw even hit a home run on Opening Day one year against the Giants. Many argue that it was the one of the best Opening Day performances in Dodgers history, maybe even in baseball history.
Rather than attempt to rank the best Opening Day performances of all time, I decided to rank the top 3 Dodgers Opening Day performances of the past 20 years.
3. Hideo Nomo
March 31, 2003 – Dodgers 8, Diamondbacks 0
Anytime you hear that the Dodgers are starting off the season against a pitcher like Randy Johnson, you have good cause for concern. But on this day in 2003, it wasn’t opposing pitcher Randy Johnson who stole the headlines, rather it was Dodgers pitcher Hideo Nomo. The right hander pitched a complete game shut out, giving up only four hits with seven strikeouts. The Dodgers rewarded Nomo with plenty of run support, winning the game 8 to 0 and starting the season on a high note.
2. Clayton Kershaw
April 1, 2013 – Dodgers 4, Giants 0
The first day of the 2013 started just as many others had, against the rival San Francisco Giants. Fortunately, the Dodgers were at home and the fans were in for a treat. Clayton Kershaw held the Giants scoreless through 8 innings. Unfortunately, the Dodgers didn’t show up offensively and the score remained 0-0. It appeared as though Kershaw would be taken out for a pinch hitter when his spot came up in the bottom of the 8th and he would finish with a no decision. However, Dodgers manager Don Mattingly decided to leave Kershaw in to bat for himself and the decision paid off. Kershaw blasted his first career home run to straight away center fielder off pitcher George Kontos to give the Dodgers a 1-0 lead. Kershaw’s hitting became contagious and the Dodgers tacked on three more runs before handing the ball back to Kershaw in the 9th. Kershaw was able to finish out the complete game shutout in only 94 pitches and became the first pitcher in 60 years to throw such a game and hit a home run on Opening Day
1, Raul Mondesi
April 5, 1999 – Dodgers 8, Diamondbacks 6
Believe it or not, Clayton Kershaw’s amazing performance was not enough to rank him #1 on this list. In fact, when this Raul Mondesi earned the title of best Opening Day performance, Kershaw was only 11 years old. The Dodgers were down to their final out of the game when Mondesi came up to bat with 2 runners on and down by 3. On a 3-0 pitch, Mondesi bombed a three run home run to tie the game and send the it into extra innings. In the bottom of the ninth and still tied at 6, Mondesi came to the plate once again with a runner on base. Mondesi once again connected and hit a two-run home run to walk off for the win. His final stat line for the day was 4-for-5 with 2 home runs and 6 runs batted in.
As of today, Raul Mondesi holds the titles for best Opening Day performance of the last 20 years. But with Kershaw getting another shot at it Monday and presumably every Opening Day for many years to come, it is likely that Kershaw will find a way to take over the top spot. He seems to get better each and every year and he is only 28 years old. By the time he is done it wouldn’t surprise me if he takes over the top 3 spots all by himself.