I caught a great night at Dodger Stadium. Early start so the light was golden, it was warm enough for fans to wear shorts, and our loge seats faced up the third-base foul line. There were several plot points to watch for in the game. Two first-place teams squaring off. The visiting Washington Nationals' starter was Stephen Strasburg, the franchise-saving phenom from two years ago who missed most of last year injured. From San Diego, it was his first major league start in California. Washington's leftfielder, Bryce Harper, was making his major league debut as this year's phenom — a 19-year-old with so much buildup that the crowd cheered for him the first time he came to bat. The Nationals manager, Davey Johnson, used to manage the Dodgers. The late Don Drysdale's daughter even sang the national anthem — fans got bobbleheads of Drysdale and fellow 1962 star Maury Wills.
The story played itself out nicely. Strasburg dominated, the Dodgers' Chad Billingsley almost matched him, and Harper collected his first hit and RBI. The game was full of the little things that make a baseball game so intricate. There were four sons of ex-players in the game, another with a brother who plays, and the Washington center fielder was a failed star pitcher who converted after he lost the ability to throw to the catcher. Strasburg struck out nine, and also plunked Dodgers' Juan Uribe and Jerry Hairston with pitches — he had only hit one batter in his entire career up to tonight. At bat, Starsburg collected his first lifetime extra-base hit, a double. There were bungled sacrifices, pitching changes that backfired, a throwing error, a beautiful double play when second baseman Hairston caught a ball racing into right field and threw back to second for the out, and a player who reached base on a strikeout-wild pitch when the Nationals catcher couldn't make the throw to first. A Dodgers runner was thrown out at the plate, and Hairston scored a run by slapping a ball out of the catcher's mitt. Davey Johnson came out twice during the game and waved his arms in protest of non-calls — once after his own team started to walk Andre Ethier intentionally, apparently against the manager's wishes. In the ninth inning, a fan ran on the field and was tackled in deep left-center by a squad of security men who proved they can swarm with the best of them.
Tony Jackson, the Dodgers' beat writer for ESPN Los Angeles, tweeted during the game that "Somebody in the Dugout Club mooned the CF camera as the pitch was being delivered on Harper's first hit. Seriously." He also commented on the first throw most of the writers had seen the Harper kid make from the outfield, on the play where Hairston knocked the ball from catcher Wilson Ramos' mitt: "Ramos never had full possession of the ball, but that was one INCREDIBLE throw by Harper, just a bullet." Hairston, by the way, left the game to get his wrist x-rayed after the HBP by Strasburg.
The Dodgers came into the ninth trailing by two runs, put runners at second and third with no outs, then scored the tying run on pitcher Henry Rodriguez's second of three wild pitches in the inning. To start the bottom of the tenth inning, Matt Kemp skied a home run to center field and the Dodgers won 4-3. It was Kemp's baseball-best 11th home run, the most ever by a Dodger in the month of April. After he got mobbed at home plate by his teammates, Kemp broke loose and ran to the screen protecting the fans behind home and found his mom for a kiss. The fans loved it.
Meanwhile, in St. Louis the LA Kings won the first game of their second round Stanley Cup series with the Blues. A defenseman who seldom scores, Matt Greene, scored a goal with the Kings down a man due to penalty. They went on to win 3-1. The Kings have now won 5 of the 16 games it takes to actually win the Stanley Cup. Game 2 is Monday in St Louis. The series moves to Staples Center on Thursday night.
Both the Lakers and the Clippers open their NBA playoff runs on Sunday, the Lakers here against the Denver Nuggets, and the Clippers in Memphis against the Grizzlies.
LA Observed photo: Sean Roderick