Why Dodgers ‘awesome’ Opening Day win was just what Ohtani needed

LOS ANGELES — Normalcy, at long last the Dodgers say, finally arrived Thursday afternoon.

Well, other than that 395-foot walk along a blue carpet from center field to the third-base line during pre-game introductions.

Unless you think it’s normal having Hollywood stars announce the starting lineup and Hall of Famers from two different sports firing up the crowd before the game.

Then yes, the most anticipated Dodgers’ home opener in franchise history was just like any other baseball game in the middle of a long season.

“It was awesome,’ said Los Angeles native Tyler Glasnow, the Dodgers’ starting pitcher.

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The Dodgers, who have 162 games on their schedule this year with hopes of playing as many as 19 encores in October, couldn’t have scripted a better home opener for what they believe could be one the most memorable season since the franchise moved to Los Angeles.

The Dodgers put on a show for all of baseball to take notice in their 7-1 victory over the St. Louis Cardinals in front of a delirious sellout crowd of 52,667 at Dodger Stadium, who cheered about anything, and everything.

It began with a brass band playing in the stands as the crowd settled into their seats, watching the Dodgers stroll from center field on a blue carpet who were then introduced by actor Bryan Cranston. Hall of Fame third baseman Adrian Beltre, who opened his career with the Dodgers, threw out the ceremonial first pitch to future Hall of Fame pitcher Clayton Kershaw. Tennis Hall of Famer Billie Jean King got behind the mic with Beltre to shout out, “t’s time for Dodger baseball,’ with legendary pitcher Sandy Koufax cheering from his seat.

Then, for the next 2 hours and 23 minutes, the Dodgers went out and showed just why they’re favored to win the World Series.

The first three hitters in the Dodgers’ lineup – Mookie Betts, Shohei Ohtani and Freddie Freeman – ‘daunting’ as Roberts describes them, were relentless, reaching base nine times with two homers and four RBI.

“I was the only guy who couldn’t hit a homer,’ Shohei Ohtani, their $700 million man, joked afterwards, “but otherwise it was a good game today.’

Glasnow mowed down the Cardinals for six innings and has a 2.45 ERA in his first two starts with the Dodgers.

“The most impressive thing is he hasn’t had his best stuff,’ Dodgers manager Dave Roberts said. “Those are his words, not to sound arrogant.’

Betts, who hasn’t been an everyday shortstop since high school, looked like a natural, even though he thew one ball away and received a loud ovation simply when he cleanly fielded the first ground ball hit to him in the third inning. He also has now reached base 11 times in three games since their season started in South Korea.

“It’s impressive,’ Roberts said. “This is one of the things he does a good job separating the defense from the offense. Clearly, the toughest position to handle on the defensive side, but not to have any drop-off offensively. He’s just a unique player.’

While the Dodgers are baseball’s most star-studded team, with four MVP awards and seven All-Stars in the starting lineup, the main attraction, of course, is Ohtani.

He’s the one who received the largest contract in sports history, paying him for the next 20 years with his $680 million in deferred payments.

He’s the one who earns about $65 million in endorsements, with the Dodgers anticipating that he’ll bring in $50 million alone with ticket sales, advertising, sponsorships, and marketing.

Besides his replica jerseys flying off the shelves at the Dodgers souvenir shops, the line was packed at the Japanese concession stands where you could buy an assorted sushi box for $32.99, a chicken katsu sandwich for $14.99 or $9.99 for sake.

He also is the one who is ensnared in a gambling scandal after his former interpreter allegedly paid $4.5 million to an illegal bookmaker.

Yet, Ohtani acted as if it were no more of an inconvenience than any of his teammates, who struggled trying to maneuver through a jammed clubhouse of reporters just to retreat to their locker.

“He’s handled it with flying colors,’ Roberts said. “I just don’t think it’s going to affect his performance. I really don’t.’

Ohtani, who received the biggest ovation of any player during introductions, reached base all three times he stepped to the plate with a double, walk and single.

The only flaw in his debut was when Betts led off the bottom of the first inning with a walk, he doubled to right field, put his head down, and kept on running towards third.

One problem.

Betts, who led off the game with a walk, was standing on third base, held up by third-base coach Dino Ebel.

Ohtani was out, but still got a thunderous ovation from the crowd.

“He can run very fast,’ Roberts cracked, “but he’s got to understand that there’s a guy in front of him, too.’

Ohtani was able to laugh about it afterwards, and said he thoroughly enjoyed the festivities except for well, that walk from the center field fence wall for introductions.

“I felt the walk was a little too long,’ Ohtani said, “but the ceremony was well done.’

Roberts said: “I got my steps in today. I don’t need to check my watch. I’m good.’

The Dodgers are hoping that days like this will quiet the noise surrounding MLB’s investigation with Ohtani and Ippei Mizuhara, Ohtani’s interpreter, while the federal government’s probe centers around the illegal bookmaking operation.

Ohtani insists he’s innocent, claiming Mizuhara stole from him, and plans to cooperate with the investigation.

In the meantime, the Dodgers plan on winning, insisting that nothing will stop them from their ultimate goal.

“When you get in between the lines,’ said Freeman, who homered, singled and drove in three runs, “the outside stuff kind of goes away … Today is a good start.’

The outside noise went away for one glorious afternoon.

“There’s going to be distractions, there always are off the field,’ Roberts said. “But the core group of guys have weathered a lot of things.. … You have to be able to compartmentalize. We have a lot of guys in the clubhouse that are professionals. That’s not to say they’re not emotional, they’re not empathetic, but we all have jobs.

“We’ve got to focus on baseball.’’

Maybe now, after spring training, the Korea trip, and all of the drama involving the gambling investigation, normalcy has arrived in the shadows of Hollywood.

The most tumultuous spring of Roberts’ managerial career, he proudly says, is now over.

“This takes the cake,’ Roberts says, “in every single way.’’

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