Monday night, there was an electric atmosphere at Dodger Stadium, evident before and throughout the Dodgers' 9-1 win over their rivals, the San Francisco Giants. The crowd looked every bit as large as the announced total of 43,713, and they came ready to cheer at every opportunity.
The biggest cheers came for legendary Los Angeles icon Magic Johnson, who escorted Rachel Robinson and Don Newcombe to the mound for the ceremonial first pitch. Johnson also announced "It's time for Dodgers baseball" before the game, and was featured on the left field scoreboard to a loud roar in the seventh inning.
In the first game under the new ownership group, the Dodgers fed off the crowd.
"We definitely felt it," said Ted Lilly, who improved to 4-0 with his six strong innings. "I think the atmosphere had a lot of energy, especially when you hear Magic's named announced there were a lot of happy people."
"It was great energy tonight. Fans were excited. You like to see that. It's great for everybody," said first baseman James Loney. "That's why they call it home field advantage. You feed off the positive energy from the fans and the electric atmosphere."
Manager Don Mattingly thinks the goodwill has been building for the last month, when the Guggenheim Baseball Partners were announced as the pending new owners of the iconic franchise.
"It's definitely a positive. It's been positive since the announcement," Mattingly said. "The fact that Magic's here tonight, with Mark and all his group. With the ceremony with Mrs. Robinson, it's just a good feeling to kind of know you're moving forward."
Matt Kemp was 3-for-3 with a walk on Monday, but was running the bases gingerly with a tight left hamstring. He was removed from the game in the top of the seventh inning, with Tony Gwynn Jr. coming in to play center field on a double switch.
"I'm just trying to be cautious. He scares me," Mattingly said of Kemp. "He's a guy that knows his body really well. The balls he was hitting down the line, I could tell he was taking care and not running like he usually does, knowing it was a double and not a triple. He was just really being cautious I think. I don't know. I keep talking to the medical people and they keep telling me he's okay."
I didn't get a chance to join the group of reporters interviewing Kemp after the game, but the center fielder said he was "just taking it easy, resting without resting," per J.P. Hoornstra of the LA Daily News.
Lilly's Strong Start
Lilly pitched six innings, allowing just one run, improving to 4-0 on the season with a 1.41 ERA.
"After the tough loss yesterday in Chicago. It's important for us to get back on track, and hopefully we'll have a good homestand," said Lilly, who struck out six batters in the win. "More than anything I was able to get my changeup over for a strike."
Mattingly told Lilly during the offseason that he wanted him to get off to a better start this season, and the left-hander has not disappointed, beginning with an offseason workout program that had him throw often.
"To me it started with spring training with Teddy. He was sharp in spring training. This is the first spring I have seen him that he was healthy in the winter," Mattingly said. "His ball was down early, it had finish. His breaking stuff is better. Throwing in the winter has helped him."
Loney's Diving Stab
The game was 4-1 in the top of the eighth inning, looking to be yet another close game for the Dodgers. The Giants got runners and second and third with two outs off Josh Lindblom, and Hector Sanchez hit a sharp grounder down the first base line. The would-be two-run single was grabbed on a diving stop by James Loney, who threw to Lindblom to end the inning.
Loney, who didn't start the game, entered the game in the seventh and saw his batting average drop to .198 on the season. But he was happy to find a way to help the team on defense.
"Over a long season, it's anything, a big play, a big hit, a big baserunning play," said Loney. "Those things can help win or lose a game."
Loney also turned 28 years old on Monday, prompting Mattingly to say after the quip of that diving stop, "A guy on his birthday gives me a present."
Hairston Reevaluated Tuesday
Jerry Hairston Jr. was given a complete day off by the Dodgers meidcal staff on Monday, to rest his strained left hamstring. The Dodgers training staff will have Hairston complete drills on Tuesday to determine his status going forward.
After seeing the other two lefties in the starting rotation improve to 4-0, Clayton Kershaw takes the mound Tuesday night looking to improve to 3-0. Ryan Vogelsong gets the start for the Giants. Kershaw is 6-1 with a 1.25 ERA against the Giants in his career, with 87 strikeouts in 79 innings.