Opening Day was a festive occasion for Los Angeles Dodgers fans this year, and not just for the usual reasons. Spectators streamed into grand old Dodger Stadium, fresh off a winter renovation worth $100 million, content in the knowledge that for the first time since 2003 they would be watching a team that wasn't owned by the despised and departed Frank McCourt. New stars Adrian Gonzalez and Carl Crawford dotted a lineup that just a year before had included low-budget placeholders like James Loney and Juan Rivera, as the Dodgers welcomed the defending champion San Francisco Giants to town.
By the end of the day, the Dodgers stood victorious with a 4-0 win, but the score hardly told the story. Homegrown ace Clayton Kershaw had not only thrown a complete game shutout, he'd taken matters into his own hands to break a scoreless tie by hitting his first career homer, a shot to center off George Kontos in the eighth. No pitcher had pulled off the same feat -- a shutout and a homer on Opening Day -- in six decades.
The young lefty had somehow found a new way to impress, and if Dodger fans take such feats for granted, they might be forgiven. Their ace has been so consistently excellent that even a rare poor outing, like Wednesday night's loss to San Diego, comes as something of a surprise. Before getting touched for five runs (three earned) by the Padres, Kershaw had gone 17 straight starts having allowed three runs or fewer; it's become almost expected to assume he'll dominate at this point.
Yet to merely place him among the ranks one of the greatest pitching talents in the game today is almost an injustice, because the same could be said about David Price, Stephen Strasburg, Justin Verlander or a half-dozen other members of the true pitching elite. With every start, Kershaw is continuing to lay the groundwork for a career that is already on the path to baseball immortality.