LOS ANGELES — Hall of Famer Sandy Koufax threw out the ceremonial first pitch. Then another Dodgers left-hander with a great curveball dominated.
Clayton Kershaw launched his first career home run to break a scoreless tie in the eighth inning before finishing off a four-hitter Monday that led Los Angeles over the defending champion San Francisco Giants 4-0 on opening day.
“He gave us seven chances to take care of it, and finally he said, ‘That’s enough. I’m going to take care of it,’” catcher A.J. Ellis said.
Kershaw became the first pitcher to throw a shutout and hit a home run in an opener since Bob Lemon for Cleveland in 1953, according to STATS.
“What an awesome feeling,” said Kershaw, who charged around the bases accompanied by a prolonged roar from the sellout crowd of 53,000. “I probably wasn’t feeling my feet hitting the ground.”
Kershaw struck out seven, walked none and retired World Series MVP Pablo Sandoval on a grounder to end it. His curveball was particularly effective in his sixth career shutout — three against the Giants.
“I was able to throw it for strikes, which is key,” he said. “That made it easier for them to chase. They were swinging early in counts.”
The former Cy Young winner began the day as a career .146 batter with only one extra-base hit in 261 at-bats. He struck out in his first two at-bats. But he sent the first pitch from George Kontos (0-1) over the center-field wall, triggering a standing ovation on a cool and sunny day.
After high-fiving his teammates, Kershaw tipped his cap from the dugout, a bit uncertain on the protocol since he’d never done it before.
“As soon as I sat down, I had to think about getting three outs,” he said.
Ellis described the dugout scene as “pandemonium.”
“To see that joy on his face when he was rounding third, it was great to see because usually he’s so focused,” the catcher said. “Everyone is going to say they were at the Kershaw home run game, even though only 53,000 were here.”
Kershaw became the first pitcher in the majors to homer on opening day since Joe Magrane of St. Louis in 1988, and the first Dodgers pitcher to do it since Don Drysdale in 1965.
“I never knew what that felt like,” said Kershaw, who homered in spring training four years ago and before that in high school.
Giants catcher Buster Posey had a close-up view of Kershaw’s home-run swing.
“The ball just ran back to the middle a little bit and he was all in,” Posey said.
Koufax, wearing his vintage No. 32 jersey, was a surprise guest for the ceremonial first ball.
In 1964, he pitched the first opening-day shutout at Dodger Stadium, where he returned Monday for the first time since 2009.
“It was almost like a passing of the torch day,” Ellis said. “The first pitch by Koufax and the last by Kersh.”
Kershaw, who turned 25 last month, was leery about having his mentioned with that of Koufax, whom he’s gotten to know during spring training.
“He was the best left-handed pitcher ever,” Kershaw said. “I’m honored with the comparisons, but I don’t put any merit into it because I got a long way to go.”
Kershaw tossed 94 pitches in his third consecutive opening day start. He has led the majors in ERA each of the last two seasons, and there is speculation he will soon be rewarded with a long-term contract worth about $200 million.
After the game, Dodgers co-owner Mark Walter hugged Kershaw, but the pitcher said getting in a quick negotiation “didn’t cross my mind.”
“Opening day was everything I could hope for,” Kershaw said. “Hopefully we got 161 more of those coming up.”
Kershaw hasn’t allowed a run in three opening day starts with a combined 19 strikeouts in 19 innings against the Giants this year, the Padres last year and the Giants in 2011.
Matt Cain made his first career opening day start for the Giants. He allowed four hits in six scoreless innings, struck out eight and walked one. The right-hander threw 93 pitches, including 32 in the first inning alone when he hit Mark Ellis.
While Kershaw (1-0) was resting after his home run, the Dodgers broke it open with a four-run eighth.
Carl Crawford followed with a double in his Dodgers debut and later scored on a wild pitch by Santiago Casilla for a 2-0 lead. The Dodgers got their last two runs on RBI groundouts by Andre Ethier and A.J. Ellis.
Dodgers co-owner Magic Johnson was on the mound before the game when manager Don Mattingly came out and signaled for a reliever. In came Koufax to throw the first ball to former Dodgers ace Orel Hershiser.