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Clayton Kershaw day by day: His first opening day start

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March 31, 2011: Kershaw vs. Tim Lincecum and the Giants

San Francisco Giants v Los Angeles Dodgers Photo by Jeff Gross/Getty Images

Our final daily Clayton Kershaw look of March is here, and it is a memorable one. Kershaw was picked to start opening day for the Dodgers on March 31, 2011 against the Giants. This was the first opening day start for Kershaw, and though he was just 23 at the time it’s reasonable to argue the decision came a year too late.

Opening day in 2011 was originally schedule for April 1, but the Dodgers and Giants were tabbed by ESPN to open a day earlier, on Sunday Night Baseball. Instead of the season-opening four-game series running from April 1-4, the series became March 31-April 3. My brother bought opening day tickets thinking the game would be on his 50th birthday, but had to settle for a day earlier instead.

This was a wonderful pitching matchup, with a rising Kershaw against two-time Cy Young Award winner Tim Lincecum, picked three slots after Kershaw in the 2006 draft, and the NL leader in strikeouts the previous three seasons. There was also the matter of the Giants coming off their first World Series win since moving to San Francisco.

From David Young’s recap:

Kershaw was clearly not overwhelmed by the first of his many Opening Day assignments, turning in a brilliant performance for a sellout crowd and a national television audience over seven shutout innings on an economical 96 pitches, 65 for strikes. Kershaw walked only one batter, set down nine Giants on strikes and allowed only four, mostly soft hits. Displaying no outward jitters, the Dodger lefty began the game by striking out the side, sandwiched around a Rafael Furcal throwing error.

Lincecum nearly matched Kershaw, allowing only one unearned run in his seven innings, but that was enough to get hung with the loss. Both teams tacked on a run after the starters left, giving the Dodgers a 2-1 win.

This was the first of four thrilling Kershaw-Lincecum duels in 2011, with all four won by Kershaw, and all four one-run wins by the Dodgers. Kershaw allowed two runs (one earned) in 30 innings in those starts with 34 strikeouts. Lincecum allowed only five runs (four earned) in his 29 innings, with 23 strikeouts.

This was the 86th career game for Kershaw, and his 84th start. He whiffed three in the first inning, with Buster Posey marking the 500th strikeout of Kershaw’s career.

The outing (W, 1-0): 7 IP, 4 hits, 1 walk, 9 strikeouts

Up next: April 1, a game so memorable it was rebroadcast last week