Baseball is unique because few teams have a gimme on the first day. On the mound, it’s your best versus theirs. When the number ones are Tim Lincecum and Clayton Kershaw, even the most egomaniacal hitters might bet the under.
The San Francisco Giants‘ first-ever regular-season game as defending World Series winners was going the way it was supposed to, a fantastic display of pitching. Then the champs started to throw away the ball, the principal story in a 2-1 loss to the Dodgers that gave Don Mattingly a win in his managerial debut.
A team with a better-than-expected defense during its title run opened the 2011 season with three errors. Two bad throws in the sixth inning doomed Lincecum to his first loss in three Opening Day starts, a defeat he did not deserve.
One was committed by Miguel Tejada, whose play at short gave some fans the shakes the minute he was signed, the other by Buster Posey in his first big-league opener.
“Opening Day, it was electric, maybe a little bit of nerves,” right fielder Aubrey Huff said. “Get them out of the way.”
Lincecum hardly seemed aggrieved by the errors that led to the only run against him in seven innings as he shrugged and said, “Whether it’s Opening Day or the middle of the season, these kinds of things happen. You just hope to iron them out.”
The game was scoreless when Lincecum walked Matt Kemp with one out on a close 3-2 pitch. James Loney followed with a soft grounder to Tejada’s left. Tejada grabbed it and tried to make an off-balance throw to second. He yanked it into right-center field, allowing both runners to advance. Lincecum then hit former Giant Juan Uribe to load the bases.
“No excuses. It was an error,” Tejada said, though he allowed that the ball slipped out of his hand. At the plate, he went 0-for-4 in a forgettable Giants debut.
With Rod Barajas batting, Lincecum threw a pitch in the dirt. Posey blocked it and saw Kemp with his back to the plate ambling back to third.
Posey snapped a throw that surprised Kemp. But it started to sail left and shot past Pablo Sandoval, allowing Kemp to trot home for a 1-0 Dodgers lead.
Though Posey took the blame and said, “It’s just one of those instinctual plays. I just didn’t execute it,” Sandoval said Kemp ran into him and hit his glove as he tried to catch the ball. Otherwise, Sandoval said, Kemp would have been out.
If manager Bruce Bochy was upset by the fundamental lapses, he hid it well.
“I want these guys to be aggressive,” he said. “I don’t want guys afraid to make mistakes. That’s how you play the game. I’ll never have a problem with guys getting after it.”
Kershaw really went after it, holding the Giants to four singles in seven innings in his first Opening Day gig. He struck out nine, most of them early when seeing the ball was tougher.
The 23-year-old left-hander let one Giant reach third base. Notably, that was Brandon Belt, who looked as though he belonged in his very visible big-league debut.
Belt raced to first for an infield hit in his first big-league at-bat, walked, struck out, lined out to end the game and looked smooth at first base.
The Dodgers scored their second run against Santiago Casilla in the eighth, making the Giants’ task against Jonathan Broxton in the ninth that much tougher. They scored their only run with one out when Pat Burrell hit a laser over the left-field wall. (Burrell had committed the first error, a bobble in left field.)
The Giants’ task gets no easier today against Chad Billingsley, who handcuffed them twice in September last year. Runs will be at a premium again, which means the Giants need to make their plays behind Jonathan Sanchez.
How the Giants, who had three errors and a passed ball on the evening, allowed an undeserving Matt Kemp a trip around the bases in the sixth inning:
— With one out, Tim Lincecum walks Kemp on seven pitches.
— James Loney’s grounder to short is fielded by Miguel Tejada – for a double play to end the inning, right? Nope. Tejada throws it past Freddy Sanchez into right field; Kemp goes to third.
— Lincecum hits Juan Uribe with a pitch, loading the bases.
— Lincecum’s 0-1 pitch in the dirt to Rod Barajas is blocked by catcher Buster Posey. With third baseman Pablo Sandoval appearing to call for the ball as Kemp is stepping back toward third, Posey throws to the foul side of the bag, and Sandoval can’t reach through Kemp to catch it. The ball caroms into foul territory, and Kemp scores easily.
This article appeared on page B – 1 of the San Francisco Chronicle