Dodgers ace Clayton Kershaw proved that the $215 million worth of U.S. currency that Magic Johnson & Co. gave him is universal. Kershaw won the MLB season-opening game of a doubleheader on Saturday night at Sydney Cricket Ground in Sydney, Australia, the international destination baseball chose for its season opener. Sydney Cricket Ground was refurbished two weeks ago to create the baseball diamond and an outfield with an 8-foot wall. It was 328 feet down the foul lines and 400 feet to straightaway center.
With expansion comes uncertainty and the MLB has made a concerted effort in the past few years to expand MLB’s international reach. In MLB’s first regular season game ever played in Australia, most of the players weren’t prepared for the gusty winds and odd dimensions of the 166-year-old converted park. Kershaw however was good money as usual, and the unpredictable winds only proved to aid his mastery as he beat the Arizona Diamondbacks 3-1 in front of nearly 40,000 Aussie heads . He also blazed seven batters, walked one and was pulled by manager Don Mattingly after throwing 102 pitches.
"With the way the wind was blowing, I thought it would have been a lot more entertaining for everybody and the score would have been completely different," Diamondbacks infielder Eric Chavez said. "There were some balls hit tonight that were hit and they didn't go out."
LA took the second game 7-5, and the high-priced, celebrity Dodgers are off to a 2-0 start. Don Mattingly’s squad is the Vegas favorite to win it all. They have become MLB’s most social media-mentioned club, with a band of bashers and characters, from last year’s savior Yasiel Puig to black basebrawlers Carl Crawford and Matt Kemp.
While the Dodgers have their share of nine-figure investments, it’s clear that Kershaw is the golden boy of the franchise.
The two-time CY Young winner gets paid to be the best mound-murderer regardless of continent, conditions or competition. The seven-year, $215 million contract Kershaw signed with LA is the richest deal for a pitcher in MLB history, trumping the seven-year, $180 million contract Detroit gave fire-baller Justin Verlander last winter. His average annual salary of $30.7 million is the highest ever for any baseball player, eclipsing Roger Clemens’ previous high of $28 million on a one-year deal with the Yankees in 2007. Kershaw will also have the opportunity to become a free agent again in five years and raise the stakes if he chooses.
The stakes weren’t that high on Saturday; in fact, most baseball fans don’t even know the season has started. An opening day played in Australia during March Madness is not going to stimulate much fan interest in the states but MLB certainly furthered its international agenda and put some more gwop in their already overflowing coiffeurs. The animated and deep crowd also proved that baseball is still a big draw – even in Crocodile Dundee’s hood.
The Dodgers, Diamondbacks and the rest of MLB’s family understands that this is ambassador work, and Kershaw did nothing to discredit his standing as the best golden arm the NL has to offer. He gave up one run in 6 2/3 innings. His only fault was that he broke a scoreless streak of 19 combined innings in his three previous Opening Day starts.
"It was pretty typical," Diamondbacks slugger Mark Trumbo said of Kershaw. "He had his off-speed stuff working real nice. Obviously, he has a good fastball to compliment it, but I thought he threw his breaking stuff well, a lot of strike-to-ball type pitches. We chased a fair bit, but give credit to his stuff."
Credit Kershaw’s grit, confidence and intimidating stature too. He made light work of Arizona even though he's not mid-season sharp. Let's you know he's already a step ahead of cats and, health-willing, is on his way to another Cy Young campaign. Kershaw went 0-3 with a 9.20 ERA in four starts in the spring, but the way he turned up when the games became official like name brand lends even more credence to the idea that spring training results are irrelevant. At least for baseball’s Paper King they are.
"Sometimes you just need the adrenaline of a regular-season game, and I just kind of feel relieved to get this one under my belt," Kershaw said.
"It's always good to get results, obviously," he said. "This one counted."