SYDNEY — Opening day turned out to be a pretty g’day for the Los Angeles Dodgers and ace Clayton Kershaw.
Kershaw flashed his Cy Young form, Scott Van Slyke homered and the NL West champions opened the Major League Baseball season with a 3-1 win over the Arizona Diamondbacks on Saturday night at Sydney Cricket Ground.
A crowd of about 40,000 watched as MLB played its first regular-season game in Australia.
Kershaw, who signed a seven-year, $215 million contract in January, allowed one run and five hits in 6 2-3 innings. Van Slyke hit a two-run homer and also doubled.
The first pitch was delayed because of rain for 14 minutes. By then, the long trip Down Under had taken even longer for some Arizona players.
A team bus had a flat tire, and the Diamondbacks said “a handful” of players decided to walk the last half-mile to the stadium instead of waiting for a replacement bus.
Kershaw was impressive while making his fourth consecutive opening-day start. He struck out seven, walked one and was pulled by manager Don Mattingly after throwing his 102nd pitch.
Quite a turnaround from spring training, when the two-time NL Cy Young winner went 0-3 with a 9.20 ERA in four starts.
“Sometimes you just need the adrenaline of a regular-season game, and I just kind of feel relieved to get this one under my belt,” he said.
“It’s always good to get results, obviously,” he said. “This one counted.”
In his previous opening-day starts, Kershaw was 2-0 with 19 strikeouts in 19 scoreless innings.
“Kershaw did a good job keeping us in the middle of the diamond,” Diamondbacks manager Kirk Gibson said. “He threw a good ballgame against us. We know they’re always going to be close.”
Three relievers kept the Diamondbacks scoreless with hitless work. Chris Perez, a two-time All-Star with Cleveland before joining the Dodgers in the offseason, got the last out in the seventh.
Brian Wilson pitched the eighth and closer Kenley Jansen got the save. Jansen walked a batter before getting Gerardo Parra to ground out to end the game.
“Clayton was really good, kind of as always … kind of doing his thing,” Mattingly said. “He’s a tough guy to take out of the game, he always wants to stay in. And I thought our bullpen was really good tonight. Chris comes in and gets a big out for us there and Wilson did a good job and Jansen in closing the door.”
There were plenty of Dodgers and Diamondbacks uniforms in the crowd, some worn by American visitors and others by Australians who had flown across the country to watch the opener and Sunday’s second game, when another capacity crowd was expected.
They feasted on baseball-style treats like nachos stuffed in batting helmets and Cracker Jack, which is not usually sold in Australia. If you could afford the cost and the calories, a 2-foot-long hot dog sold for $36.
Kershaw ran like he’d eaten one of those hot dogs when he tried to stretch a one-out single in the seventh into a double, but was easily thrown out at second by left fielder Mark Trumbo.
“My baserunning needs some work,” Kershaw said, laughing. “I almost stopped at first base and then went to second, and that hesitation probably killed me. I’m not that fast, so I need all the help I can get. Fortunately, it didn’t hurt us very much.”
Van Slyke, playing because of an injury to Matt Kemp and paternity leave to Carl Crawford, nearly cleared the left-field fence in the second inning. His double set up a grounder by Andre Ethier that scored Adrian Gonzalez with the Dodgers’ first run.
In his next at-bat in the fourth, Van Slyke connected off losing pitcher Wade Miley for a drive over the right-field fence — just inside the foul pole — with Gonzalez again on base to put the Dodgers up 3-0.
“I thought that it was either going to be a foul or caught,” Van Slyke said. “I didn’t think it had a chance to go out. I felt more relaxed and had a little more energy and focus than I did in the exhibition games.”
Sydney Cricket Ground was refurbished two weeks ago to create the baseball diamond and an outfield with an 8-foot wall. It was 328 feet down the foul lines and 400 feet to straightaway center.
Miley, who came out for a pinch hitter in the fifth, got the opening day assignment because of a left elbow injury to Diamondbacks ace Patrick Corbin. Miley gave up three runs and three hits, striking out eight with two walks.
Both teams finished with five hits.
The Diamondbacks scored in the sixth after a double by Paul Goldschmidt, who had two hits. He moved to third on Kershaw’s wild pitch and scored on Trumbo’s infield out. The Diamondbacks were shut out 5-0 in an exhibition game Friday by Team Australia when they stranded 11 runners.
A series of thunderstorms but little rain around the stadium about two hours ahead of the start cut short the Dodgers’ batting practice and tarp was rolled on to the field. That caused the start of the game to be delayed and canceled the pregame ceremonies.
NOTES: Dodgers SS Hanley Ramirez gingerly walked off the field early in the game and may have tweaked a troublesome hamstring. He stayed in the game. … LA leadoff man Yasiel Puig was hitless in five at-bats, including three strikeouts. … On Sunday, South Korean lefty Hyun-Jin Ryu, moved up in the Dodgers’ rotation because Zack Greinke injury his right calf, faces the Diamondbacks’ Trevor Cahill in the afternoon finale. … The ceremonial first pitch was thrown by Sydney Swans Aussie rules football star Adam Goodes, picked as Australian of the year this season. It was a very off-speed strike. … Arizona’s Aaron Hill had an infield single for the first hit of the season.