"There'll probably be a lot of tight games," Giants catcher Buster Posey said. "I think that'll probably be the theme with us."
Fortunately for the Giants, they'll probably face Clayton Kershaw only four or five more times this season. The Giants' status as reigning World Series champions meant nothing against Kershaw, their biggest nemesis, who slugged and pitched the Los Angeles Dodgers to a 4-0 triumph.
Kershaw outdid himself before a jam-packed crowd at Dodger Stadium. Not only did he limit the Giants to four hits in his third career shutout against them, but the 6-foot-3 Texan also shattered a scoreless tie by leading off the eighth with his first career home run. That clout also launched a four-run uprising.
Kershaw became the first pitcher to homer and pitch a shutout on Opening Day since the Indians' Bob Lemon in 1953, against the White Sox. He also was the first to shut out a defending Series champion on Opening Day since the Yankees' Rick Rhoden beat the Twins in 1988.
With 161 regular-season games remaining, conclusions are risky. But onlookers at least had to consider that the Dodgers, with their horde of high-priced talent and an ownership group bent on success, intend to close the perceived gap between themselves and the Giants by bringing fresh intensity to their confrontations.
"With the whole scenario of what's going on with Opening Day and a lot of expectation and excitement around our club, the Giants [being] world champions, I think it puts a lot of emphasis on the game," Dodgers manager Don Mattingly said.
Asked if he thought that the Dodgers are "targeting" the Giants, Posey said, "You'll have to ask them, but I'm sure [they are], really, with the success we've had over the last few years."
If that's the case, the Giants are ready for a staredown.
"We knew they made some big [personnel] moves last year and in the offseason, so we're looking at those guys as well," right-hander Matt Cain said.
Except for Cain and Pablo Sandoval, who collected two hits, the Giants might want to avert their gaze from this game as quickly as possible. They did not move a runner past first base against Kershaw, whose career 1.28 ERA against the Giants is the best ever (minimum 50 innings pitched). San Francisco could only lament a couple of close calls: Hunter Pence flied out to deep left field leading off the fifth inning and Posey lined out to third base after Sandoval drilled a one-out single in the seventh.
"He hides the ball really well, and he's similar to the kind of guys we have on our staff," Posey said of Kershaw, who's 9-4 lifetime against San Francisco. "He's going to give you all he's got."
Cain did exactly that in his first Opening Day start by working six combative innings. The right-hander constantly pitched out of trouble, holding the Dodgers hitless in seven at-bats with runners in scoring position. He thoroughly enjoyed the experience of pitching the opener.
"You've seen some guys do it, and you always kind of wonder what it feels like," he said. "There definitely is a lot of hype going on with it, a bit of overreporting, kind of. But that's the fun part leading up to the first game."
Having thrown 92 pitches, Cain yielded the mound to George Kontos, who was temporarily a worthy successor. Kontos pitched a perfect seventh and figured to have an edge entering the eighth, since Kershaw was due to lead off.
But Kershaw reminded the Giants that every man with a bat is dangerous by clobbering Kontos' first pitch over the center-field barrier.
"He's a big strong guy," Kontos said. "If you make a mistake, he's going to put a good swing on it."
Kershaw connected with a sinking fastball that didn't sink enough.
"I knew when he hit it, he hit it well," Posey said. "I didn't know that it had enough to get out. But he's an athlete. ... I think the ball ran back to the middle a little bit, and he was all in. He was swinging no matter what."
Until then, Kontos, the Chicago-area native, was basking in Chavez Ravine's splendor. Hall of Famer Sandy Koufax threw the ceremonial first pitch, sunshine fought through the clouds and, regardless of your team loyalty, you didn't have a pulse if you didn't get goosebumps when Vin Scully intoned, "It's time for Dod-ger baseball."
Said Kontos, "It was very exciting. It was a great day. Great atmosphere at the ballpark and it was an experience before my outing that I definitely will never forget. I just wish the results were a little bit better."