The Dodgers arrived at Chavez Ravine for opening day Thursday understanding their goal of a championship is a taller summit to climb coming off two World Series disappointments. That’s why the message during spring training was to disregard that past. They asserted they were talented and deep enough to rise up again and, for once, finish on top. And for weeks, they maneuvered with a quiet confidence in preparation for the slog, striving to avoid the hangover that plagued them a year ago.
On Thursday, they offered a glimpse of their potential.
The Dodgers’ pursuit of their seventh straight NL West title, third consecutive pennant and first championship in more than three decades began with a booming 12-5 victory over the Arizona Diamondbacks at Dodger Stadium.
After leading the National League in home runs last season, the offense slugged eight Thursday to propel the rout. Joc Pederson pounded two home runs and a double. Enrique Hernandez also hit two homers. Diamondbacks ace Zack Greinke was chased after giving up seven runs in 3 ⅔ innings. Justin Turner was the only starting position player to not reach base.
“It’s what we’re capable of, I guess,” Pederson said. “A high-powered offense.”
The eight home runs — including blasts by Cody Bellinger, Corey Seager, Austin Barnes and Max Muncy — set a major league record for a season opener and tied the Dodgers’ franchise record set in May 2002. Shawn Green hit four home runs that day. Manager Dave Roberts was a 29-year-old outfielder on the team.
“Oh, yeah, Milwaukee, Sunday,” Roberts recalled after a couple of hints. “A lefty was pitching. I wasn’t playing that day.”
The blitz came in support of Hyun-Jin Ryu, who didn’t need much of it. The left-hander limited the Diamondbacks to one run and four hits in six innings. He struck out eight and didn’t walk a batter.
“There wasn’t any pressure,” Ryu said through an interpreter. “My goal going into the game was to not give up an early lead. I think it worked out pretty well.”
A.J. Pollock, going against his former club in his first game as a Dodger, was christened as an Angeleno before the game. Traffic to the stadium Thursday morning, he said, was brutal. Alex Verdugo, on an opening-day roster for the first time, took a photo of his jersey at his locker before putting it on. He chose No. 27, previously Matt Kemp’s number. Ross Stripling’s fantasy football trophy, which he shares with Clayton Kershaw after they finally dethroned former general manager Farhan Zaidi and ceased his infamous dynasty, was placed atop his locker.
The typical extravagant opening day ceremonies followed. But there were differences. For the first opening day since 2010, Kershaw wasn’t in the bullpen warming up to pitch when he was announced during introductions. Instead, he jogged out from the dugout when his name was called to thunderous applause. Kershaw’s streak of opening day starts for the Dodgers officially ended at eight seasons moments later.
And Don Newcombe, one of the Dodgers’ many aces from yesteryear, wasn’t sitting at his usual seat by the Dodger dugout. The 1949 National League rookie of the year, and 1956 National League MVP and Cy Young Award winner died last month and was celebrated before the teams took the field. The Dodgers will wear commemorative patches on their jerseys this season in his honor.
Ryu became the first left-hander besides Kershaw to start on opening day for the Dodgers since another revered hurler — Fernando Valenzuela — in 1988. He was the second Korean-born pitcher to start on opening day for any major league team, joining Chan Ho Park. And he was the Dodgers’ fourth choice for the nod, selected after Rich Hill, who was scheduled to get the start after Kershaw and Walker Buehler were deemed unavailable, sprained his left knee late in spring training.
The Diamondbacks, fielding a lineup that has lost considerable firepower since last season, floundered against him. They mustered only an infield hit through four innings. Nick Ahmed’s double with two outs in the fifth inning was their second ball out of the infield. Adam Jones supplied their first run with a solo homer in the sixth.
Greinke’s first taste of 2019 didn’t go as smoothly. The former Dodger, welcomed with throaty jeers before the game, needed 31 pitches to escape the first inning because the Dodgers consistently laid off pitches barely out of the strike zone. Pederson led off with a double. Corey Seager walked in his first plate appearance since last April, before he underwent elbow-ligament replacement and hip surgeries, and the Dodgers did something they failed to do so often as boom-or-bust practitioners last season: generate productive outs. Turner and Muncy recorded back-to-back groundouts to push Pederson home and give the Dodgers a lead.
The Dodgers reverted to their customary run-producing means in the second inning when Pederson swatted a first-pitch curveball over the wall in center field for a two-out, two-run home run. They continued pounding Greinke in the fourth inning with back-to-back blasts from Hernandez and Barnes. Two batters later, Seager, who exited the game after the sixth inning to rest, crushed an 88-mph fastball into the right-field bleachers.
“I don’t know if the balls were juiced or the ball was carrying today,” Hernandez said. “But the ball was going far.”
Seager’s missile ended Greinke’s day. The right-hander was booed off the mound. He has given up 16 home runs in 34 innings at Dodger Stadium since he left Los Angeles to sign with Arizona for $206.5 million before the 2016 season. After the game, players credited the game plan presented by the hitting department for the success. The gist? Practice strict plate discipline and swing at strikes. The result wasn’t a bad first game on the job for new hitting coach Robert Van Scoyoc.
“Only downhill from here,” Roberts said.