It’s almost here: Opening Day. It arrives after a drawn-out offseason that felt twice as long, from owner collusion to Stan Kasten’s misguided comments to the unfortunate death of a fan struck by a foul ball. To make things even more trying, the Opening Day starting pitcher wasn’t even decided until the 11th hour this week. Yet that doesn’t dampen the excitement of our boys kicking off their 61st season in Los Angeles.
However, even with a talented team and championship expectations, the 2019 Dodgers will have to go to great lengths to provide an Opening Day win that ranks among their best. Here are the top five wins to kick off a Dodgers season, Brooklyn or Los Angeles.
5. April 4, 2016 – Dodgers Destroy Padres on Vin Scully’s Last Ever Opening Day
The 2016 season was a crucial one for the Dodgers, with a new manager in Dave Roberts and the first full season for soon-to-be Rookie of the Year (and MVP contender) shortstop Corey Seager. But its significance in the franchise’s rich history was due to one thing more than any other: Vin Scully’s grand finale. After many years of fans wondering when the end would come, the voice of Dodger baseball chose to make his 67th year his last.
It was only fitting the team start his last season with a win, and they didn’t leave it to chance. The Padres were thoroughly embarrassed on their home turf, failing to score a run while the Dodgers amassed 15. Clayton Kershaw pitched his usual seven shutout innings, and the offense scored the bulk of their runs in the later innings.
Honestly, the game only makes this list because it commenced the final year of Vinny’s hallowed career. From an impartial standpoint, it was an atrocious spectacle to watch, as SB Nation chronicled in-depth in their brilliant “Worst Ever” series.
4. March 31, 2011 – Clayton Kershaw and Tim Lincecum Duel
It may feel like a million years ago now, but there was a time when Tim Lincecum and Clayton Kershaw epitomized the Dodgers-Giants rivalry. They came up roughly around the same time, and were youthful, charismatic aces with eccentric deliveries. In 2012, they did a memorable cover shoot for ESPN the Magazine.
On Opening Day 2011 at Dodger Stadium, the match-up of young aces yielded an especially unforgettable game. With the Giants having just won their first World Series title in San Francisco, Kershaw (making his first ever Opening Day start) and Lincecum traded zeroes for the first five innings, both finishing with seven. The Giants ace was great, but Kersh was even greater, striking out nine and allowing no runs in a 2-1 Los Angeles victory. More importantly, it was the first salvo of Kershaw’s breakout year in which he would win his first ever NL Cy Young Award and notch the pitching Triple Crown.
Had Lincecum not dropped off so precipitously in the following years, this would have been a pitching rivalry for the ages. In retrospect, it was a brief moment in time as Kershaw’s ascendance to the top of the pitching world happened just before The Freak’s decline. Nevertheless, 2011 was a perfect convergence of them at their full potential.
3. April 9, 1981 – Fernandomania Begins
It is very easy to forget that Fernando Valenzuela actually made his MLB debut in 1980 as a late call-up to assist the team’s September surge to catch the Houston Astros in the NL West. Pitching 17 2/3 scoreless innings with two wins and a save, he was integral to the team forcing a game 163 for the division. Unfortunately, the Astros soundly won it to take the crown, and fans would have to wait until next year to truly see what Valenzuela was made of.
On Opening Day in 1981, however, Fernandomania truly began. Facing none other than Houston, Valenzuela was tapped as starter after Jerry Reusse was injured and Burt Hooton was unavailable. The Mexican phenom hurled a complete-game, 2-0 shutout, the first of five shutouts to start the season. The team’s proudest cultural moment since Jackie Robinson’s rookie year, and a championship season, were officially underway.
2. April 1, 2013 – Kershaw Deals and Homers to Beat Giants
Just like in 2011, Clayton Kershaw took the mound in 2013 with the Giants coming to town as defending World Series champions. Fortunately, it came with much greater optimism, as the franchise was out of the McCourt nadir and now firmly in the hands of the Guggenheims. The new owners had spent and traded relentlessly to build the Best Team Money Can Buy, and World Series aspirations were all the more urgent with their hated rivals having won another title.
Also like in 2011, the game was a stingy pitcher’s duel, as Kershaw and Giants starter Matt Cain refusing to blink. Things were scoreless in the eighth, when the GOAT stepped to the plate against reliever George Kontos. He proceeded to launch a solo home run, single-handedly setting up his complete-game shutout.
In and of itself, this win didn’t signify much for the team, as the Dodgers struggled mightily for the first few months of the year. As we all know, they didn’t start winning until the 42-8 run started in June. But even with that historic run providing a lifetime’s worth of highlights, Kershaw’s do-it-all effort in the first game remains an indelible one.
1. April 15, 1947 – Jackie Robinson Breaks Color Barrier, Dodgers Beat Braves
The only logical choice for #1. The moment Jackie Robinson ran out of the dugout at Ebbets Field, decades of segregation in Major League Baseball finally came to a close. A bountiful wave of black players, such as Roy Campanella, Don Newcombe, Willie Mays, Larry Doby, Satchel Paige, and Hank Aaron, quickly followed and changed baseball forever. Robinson’s debut also helped set the stage for the Civil Rights Movement that began the following decade.
The occasion would have undeniably been sullied by a loss, and thankfully the Dodgers emerged victorious. Brooklyn managed to chase Boston Braves ace Johnny Sain with a seventh-inning rally. Jackie didn’t get a hit, but scored the go-ahead run in the seventh as the team went on to a 5-3 victory. Best of all, the team, an underachiever in the National League for many decades, went to the World Series in 1947, starting a run that would include five more pennants and a championship in the Brooklyn era.
The important history comes first, as it should. But we should never downplay how important this game also was to the Dodgers’ ascendance to being one of the greatest franchises in all of sports. I would actually argue the Dodgers have been consistently great since the 1941 pennant-winning team, but in terms of frequent postseason trips, Robinson and the 1947 season was truly their coming of age, and they haven’t looked back since.
What are your top opening days in franchise history?
“Looking Back Opening Days Past”
2004- Led by Jim Tracy, Doc, Cesar, Milton, Green, Loduca,Encarnacion,Beltre and Cora. Also in there Werth, Lima, Odalis and Bones at the very end.
One of my favorite teams in all of my 34 sea… https://t.co/jNqYdbTBzy pic.twitter.com/ds0qSd6RUt
— Jon SooHoo (@JonSooHooPics) March 24, 2019