LOS ANGELES -- For the Dodgers, the most important thing to kick off their season was so subtle you might have missed it if you don't know your history.
Matt Kemp was 1 for 1 on Thursday -- with three walks.
Now. That's not exactly as dramatic as Ramon Hernandez's game-ending homer for Cincinnati on Thursday. Or John Mayberry's game-winning single Friday as Philadelphia crushed Houston in its last at-bat.
But for Kemp, coming off of a season in which he batted .249 and his on-base percentage fell 42 points, the plate discipline during those walks was all the action the Dodgers needed to see.
"We know what he's capable of," Dodgers manager Don Mattingly said. "We've talked about just be focused, you know? ...
"We know the upside with Matt. Matt knows the upside with Matt."
But in 2010, Kemp's concentration was in and out, like the reception on an AM radio.
Now, there is no guarantee that he can or will repeat his opening-day focus 160 more times.
But in the Dodgers' 4-3 win Friday in their second game of the season, Kemp keyed a three-run rally in the sixth with a beautiful, heads-up base-running play, streaking from first to third on a grounder to third. Of the Dodgers' first four runs this season, Kemp scored three and knocked in the other.
As Los Angeles general manager Ned Colletti often says (along with many others), the Great Wall of China wasn't built in a day. It was built by laying one brick, and then another, and then another. ...
As for Thursday's season-opening 2-1 win, Kemp had never walked three times in any of the previous 626 games in his career.
He did, though, set a franchise record with 170 strikeouts last season ... after previously setting a franchise record of 153 whiffs in 2008.
Kemp scored both runs in Thursday's 2-1 win after reaching base via a walk. Two of his three walks were drawn against ace Tim Lincecum.
"Definitely he was more patient," Lincecum said. "I think he's trying to be more aggressive on the pitches he wants than on the pitches the pitchers want."
Exhibit A came in the sixth inning of Thursday's game when Kemp managed to lay off of a full-count Lincecum slider that broke just outside of the strike zone.
"He threw me some really good pitches," Kemp said. "That 3-2 pitch was a really good slider. I almost bit, but I laid off of it.
"The key for me to be good is to be consistent."
Right now, the sample size is way too small to draw final conclusions. But early evidence in 2011 is that, perhaps as he enters what will be his fourth full season, Kemp, at 26, might have the experience now not only to formulate a plan with each plate appearance, but to stick with it. In his first two games, he's now 3 for 5 with three walks, three runs scored and an RBI.
"You've got to have a plan up there every time," he said. "When I don't get my pitch, don't swing."
As Mattingly said, everybody -- Kemp included -- knows his upside.
"But sometimes that's the curse we talk about," the manager said. "It can be a curse, too: 'If you do all of this, you can do that. And if you do all of that, what else can you do?'
"We expect more and more. But it's day to day. That game's over. Worry about today."
Kemp does that, the Dodgers will have much less to worry about themselves.
Likes: Final Four Saturday. Go Butler! ... Vin Scully in the Dodger Stadium press box. Still. ... Day baseball in April. When you've been starved for baseball all winter, nothing like being able to watch baseball during the day before the night games. Highly entertaining Astros-Phillies game Friday. ... I have a whole bunch of favorite places to run while on the road, and right there among them is the route through the Arroyo Seco in Pasadena, along the Rose Bowl and then next to the golf course. A beautiful run, with mountains surrounding, and so peaceful through there. Great run midday Friday before Giants-Dodgers game. ... Bob Seger back on tour and breaking out Shinin' Brightly from the Against the Wind album. One of his most underrated songs from one of his greatest albums.
Dislikes: Aside from the legendary organist Nancy Bea Hefley, most of the in-game production stuff in Dodger Stadium is brutal, and has been for the past three or four years. Pounding music, awful mash-ups of songs, too much noise for the short-attention span crowd and Thursday they brought the fan who acts out the lyrics to Journey's Don't Stop Believin' onto the roof of the Dodgers dugout to do it. Total amateur hour. Entertainment capital of the world, my eye.
Rock 'N' Roll Lyric of the Day:
"Roll down the window, put down the top
"Crank up the Beach Boys, baby
"Don't let the music stop
"We're gonna ride it till we just can't ride it no more
"From the South Bay to the Valley
"From the West Side to the East Side
"Everybody's very happy
"'Cause the sun is shining all the time
"Looks like another perfect day"
-- Randy Newman, I Love LA