Dodgers: Opening Day Is Always One for the Ages
By Mike Margy
For a young Dodger fan, 1980 ended in heartbreaking fashion. The Dodgers finished the regular season with a three-game sweep of Houston to tie for the division lead and force a one-game playoff against the Astros at Dodger Stadium.
We all rushed home from high school that Monday afternoon to watch the game on TV, hoping manager Tommy Lasorda would start this kid named Fernando Valenzuela, who had already started turning heads with his eye-to-the-sky delivery and funky screwball.
But Lasorda went with Dave Goltz, who lasted only three innings, and the Dodgers lost 7-1.
Then came April 9, 1981, which was named the 37th greatest game in Dodger history, according to The 50 Greatest Dodger Games Of All Time by J.P. Hoornstra.
When scheduled Opening Day starter Jerry Reuss suffered a recurrence of a strained calf muscle the day before the opener, Lasorda called on the 20-year-old Valenzuela, and Vin Scully said it best after the game: “And a little child shall lead them.” (Hear Part 1 of the highlights of that entire season here. This is one of the greatest albums you’ll ever own).
Fernando pitched a complete game shutout, allowing five hits and two walks while striking out five. Ron Cey and Pedro Guerrero each drove home a run (Steve Garvey both times), and the Dodgers were off and running toward what would become a memorable World Series championship season, culminating with a 4-games-to-2 title over the New York Yankees.
1981 was also the last season Steve Garvey, Davey Lopes, Bill Russell and Ron Cey played together.
The 1982 home opener was almost as fun as 1981. The first Dodger Stadium World Series ring ceremony during this lifetime was nothing short of amazing.
Sitting in the loge, even with the third base line, this mind can see it clear as day as Dusty Baker chopped a ball over Giants third baseman Guy Sularz’s head into left field, scoring Russell for a walk-off, 4-3 victory.
As a whole, the 80s weren’t great for season openers, as L.A. went 4-6 in the decade. Even the ’88 opener was a bust. Dave Dravecky threw a complete game for the Giants, and Fernando gave up five runs in six innings in a 5-1 loss. But, who cares. We know how that season ended.
The 1989 opener was exciting for one reason only: the ring ceremony. The Dodgers then went out and lost to the Astros, 4-2. But, who cared? We had our second ring of the decade, the only team with two World Series championships in the 80s.