Venue: Dodger Stadium
When Clayton Kershaw delivers his first pitch to the Pittsburgh Pirates on Tuesday afternoon, it'll be 50 years to the day since Dodger Stadium opened its doors.
To the fans coming through those gates - and the players taking the field - there's a bit more optimism than usual within one of the majors' iconic franchises.
A new ownership group featuring Magic Johnson has things looking up in Los Angeles, and a 3-1 start hasn't hurt as the Dodgers go for their fifth straight home-opening win on the golden anniversary of Chavez Ravine.
After winning back-to-back NL West titles in 2008 and 2009, Los Angeles had mediocre finishes over the past two seasons that took a backseat to the drama playing out in the courtroom over the team's ownership.
Reports came out before the 2010 season that owner Frank McCourt had racked up $390 million in debt against the team, and by June 2011, the Dodgers filed for bankruptcy.
McCourt and MLB reached an agreement for a court-supervised auction of the team and Dodger Stadium in November, but it took nearly five months to find a bidder.
That certainly didn't mean the franchise would come cheap. Johnson's group won the bidding for a North American sports franchise record $2.15 billion in late March, and the focus is back to what the team is doing between the lines - albeit with an overwhelming outside interest in one of its celebrity owners.
"I definitely think there's some renewed excitement," Kershaw said. "With change comes a little bit of excitement, and with some unknown comes a little bit of enthusiasm and everything like that. But opening day is opening day. Last year we had a sellout, and it was an unbelievable crowd. It was awesome. This year I don't expect any different."
There tends to be plenty of optimism when Kershaw (0-0, 0.00 ERA) takes the hill, but that excitement was cut short Thursday in San Diego. The reigning NL Cy Young Award winner left after tossing three scoreless innings in Los Angeles' 5-3 win with the effects of the stomach flu.
He didn't face Pittsburgh (2-1) last season but had some control issues in a pair of 2010 matchups. The left-hander walked 10 in 11 innings, going 0-1 with a 4.09 ERA.
The Pirates might be able to get a pretty good scouting report on Kershaw even though they haven't seen him in nearly two years. Rod Barajas, who caught Kershaw's 2011 home-opener gem - seven scoreless innings with nine strikeouts against San Francisco - is now behind the plate for Pittsburgh.
"I know the movement of all his pitches, so I hope that can help out a little," Barajas told the Dodgers' official website. "But catching it and hitting it are two different things. ... I was back there when he was embarrassing hitters last year. Doesn't matter knowing him, he wouldn't be my No. 1 choice of a pitcher I'd want to bat against."
Pittsburgh saw some fantastic starting pitching in its opening series against Philadelphia, failing to get a hit off Roy Halladay after its first two batters reached in a 1-0 loss Thursday and struggling Saturday against Cliff Lee.
But the Pirates rallied for a 2-1, 10-inning win, then came from three runs down Sunday to win 5-4 on Andrew McCutchen's walkoff hit in the ninth.
"I think (last) weekend helps with some confidence going out there (when) we've got two more opening days, which is kind of difficult when you're on the road," second baseman Neil Walker said. "It doesn't change our mentality."
Kevin Correia takes the ball Tuesday for Pittsburgh after going 12-11 with a 4.79 ERA in 2011 in his first season outside of the NL West, and he'll simply be happy to not be pitching in PNC Park. The right-hander was 10-3 with a 2.64 ERA on the road last season but 2-8 with a 7.71 ERA at home.
He didn't pitch in Dodger Stadium after going 3-2 with a 4.34 ERA there over his past five starts with San Francisco and San Diego.
Correia gave up five runs in 6 1-3 innings in a 10-3 loss to Los Angeles at PNC Park on May 10, with Matt Kemp's three-run homer the big blow. Kemp hit .414 with a pair of home runs in helping the Dodgers take six of eight from the Pirates last season.
The runner-up in the NL MVP voting picked up right where he left off in the opening series against the Padres, going 7 for 17 with two homers and eight RBIs. Named the NL player of the week Monday, Kemp is eager to return to Chavez Ravine, where he hit .397 with 10 homers in 31 games after the All-Star break.
"I hope our fans come out and support us like they have in the past years," Kemp said. "I think it's going to be a special year for our guys, and we're going to really need our fan support ... a lot of fans, a lot of screaming.
"It's going to be exciting."
The Dodgers have outscored opponents 27-7 in winning their last four home openers, and they've won 11 of 13 at home against Pittsburgh.
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