Kruk and Kuip break down Opening Day loss in L.A.
LOS ANGELES – This is what it means to pitch against Clayton Kershaw:
Under blue skies and in front of a blue-spattered crowd, Matt Cain didn’t fail to match the Dodgers’ brilliant left-hander because of a bloop or a bunt or a mistake with runners on base. It was because Cain had a little turbulence in the first inning.
A scoreless first inning.
See, you don’t have to give up runs to lose to Kershaw. He’s so good, just one long inning can put you a lap behind him. Cain threw 29 pitches while finding his level in the first inning. Kershaw never needed more than 16 pitches to flick the Giants back onto the field.
The result: Kershaw, on Opening Day, was able to go the distance on 94 pitches in the Dodgers’ 4-0 victory Monday. Cain’s 93 pitches only carried him through the sixth of a scoreless games. And the Giants didn’t dare take him any further.
[INSTANT REPLAY: Dodgers 4, Giants 0]
Cain did not lose. But he couldn’t keep Kershaw from winning.
“Kershaw … you know he’s going to bring it,” Cain said. “That one was a tough one. Kershaw never really gave us a chance to do anything today. That’s typical for him.”
Yes, it’s typical for a pitcher whose 1.28 ERA is the lowest of any opposing pitcher (minimum 50 innings) in Giants franchise history.
His 17th career start against them was his best, which is saying something. But there’s no denying it’s true, considering the stage (Opening Day for a team with a $220 million payroll and massive expectations), and especially when you consider the left-hander’s other contributions (his first career home run, which broke a scoreless tie in the eighth inning).
Dodgers catcher A.J. Ellis reflected on the nine innings he viewed from the squat, and Sandy Koufax’s throwing out the ceremonial first pitch, and said, “It was almost a passing of the torch day, it felt like.”
Except Koufax was 17-11 with a 3.07 ERA in 47 career games against the Giants – nothing approaching the medieval level of discomfort that Kershaw has inflicted on them.
This was the day the Giants were supposed to pass their own torch. It was Cain’s first Opening Day assignment, which is hard to believe when you consider how long he’s been around, how accomplished he is and how much respect his teammates have for him.
Tim Lincecum started the previous four openers, and Barry Zito had the job before that.
And Cain was nervous. He admitted that much after a jittery first inning when it took him 15 pitches just to record his first out. But he learned something from all those 2-1 losses to Greg Maddux and so many others earlier in his career.
He knew he had no margin for error, and he pitched that way – even if he had to maneuver around Andre Ethier (.446 career average against him) while holding the Dodgers 0 for 7 with runners in scoring position.
“That’s who Matt is,” Giants manager Bruce Bochy said. “He’s one of the elite pitchers in this game. He’s lost some tough ones, and that does toughen you up.”
But Bochy wasn’t going to keep sending Cain to the post. Not in No.1 of 162. Not when Cain threw more than 250 innings last year, all told – the most by a Giant in a season since Bob Knepper and Vida Blue in 1978.
“Matt had gone far enough in his first outing,” Bochy said. “He did his job. It’s a long season and you always look at the big picture.”
The picture is never clear after one game, or even one series. If that were the case, the Giants would’ve disbanded a year ago, when the Arizona Diamondbacks swept a three-game series at Chase Field. Barry Zito helped to right them with that eye-rubbing shutout at Coors Field, you’ll recall. And at the end of that season, of course, the Giants were the only team still standing.
So, after the longest spring in the history of medicine balls, the Giants still have plenty of time for their 2013 stories to emerge. Maybe Brandon Belt and Brandon Crawford, who both looked like they were wearing straitjackets against Kershaw, really will be improved offensive players. (Belt barely made it in the lineup, and had to take intravenous fluids, because of a stomach ailment.) Maybe Pablo Sandoval really will be able to overcome his elbow and other weighty issues. Maybe there will be more reasons to celebrate the return of Andres Torres, many more instances to glance at reigning NL MVP Buster Posey and feel warm allover knowing he’s signed long enough to commute to the ballpark on his hoverboard in 2021.
These are stories that Giants fans can’t wait to watch and witness and be told. But not on Opening Day.
Kershaw blotted them out. All of them.
He became the first pitcher to throw a nine-inning complete game against the Giants on 94 pitches or fewer since the Pirates’ Paul Maholm in 2007 (91 pitches). He became the first pitcher to throw a shutout and hit a home run on Opening Day since Bob Lemon in 1953. And he became the first Dodgers pitcher to go deep in a lid lifter since Don Drysdale in 1965.
Drysdale hit seven home runs that season. The Dodgers won the World Series.
Aw, hell. I’ll just tell you this, too, since I looked it up: The last time a Giants pitcher threw a nine-inning complete game on 94 pitches or fewer was Mark Portugal, April 6, 1994, against the Reds at Candlestick Park.
Kershaw was the story of Opening Day, and the Giants seemed to realize that. Cain was able to talk about how he “enjoyed” the experience of pitching the opener. Even George Kontos, who allowed Kershaw’s homer, called his first Opening Day “something I’ll never forget.”
The Giants didn’t think any less of themselves. That is what it means to lose to Kershaw, too.
You shrug, tip your cap and move on to the next day.
“He’s just got really good stuff, for one, he hides the ball well and he just competes,” Posey said. “He’s similar to the guys on our staff. He’ll give them everything he’s got each time out.”
And in the end, after a curtain call and a series of thunderous ovations, Kershaw went on the field for a live interview and got soaked by Matt Kemp with the water bucket. It was the only time he had to mop his brow.