LOS ANGELES -- After the first game of their latest title defense, the Giants could do nothing but tip their caps.
The team that brought back 21 members of a World Series-winning roster was no match for Clayton Kershaw's one-man show at Dodger Stadium on Monday, losing 4-0 to a Los Angeles Dodgers club that has been rejuvenated over the past year. For all their recent big-ticket purchases and blockbuster trades, however, the Dodgers still line up behind Kershaw, their longtime ace who needed just 94 pitches to shut out the Giants. He also hit the go-ahead homer in the eighth inning.
The blast to center was the first homer of Kershaw's career and came on a George Kontos two-seam fastball that the right-hander said stayed up and flat.
"He's a big, strong guy," Kontos said. "This is the big leagues -- guys are going to do that to you."
Kontos entered in the seventh inning for Matt Cain, who matched Kershaw out for out during much of Cain's first career opening day start. Cain needed 29 pitches to get through the first inning but settled in to retire 13 of 15 before Hunter Pence lost Mark Ellis' sixth-inning flare to right in the sun. Cain recovered, getting out of the inning on a Matt Kemp groundout and strikeouts of Adrian Gonzalez and Andre Ethier.
Cain struck out eight in six shutout innings, the highest total by a Giants opening day starter since Jason Schmidt whiffed nine in 2005.
"He did his job," manager Bruce Bochy said. "He settled down and pitched great."
Bochy lifted Cain after just 93 pitches, saying he was looking at the big picture this early in the season. Dodgers manager Don Mattingly faced no such decision with Kershaw, who needed just 65 pitches to match Cain through six and set down the Giants on 19 total pitches in the next two innings.
"That's definitely what you expect when you go out there and face Kershaw," Cain said. "You know he's going to bring it. That one's a tough one. He never really gave us a chance to do much at all."
Kershaw, the 2011 National League Cy Young Award winner, is 9-4 with a microscopic 1.28 ERA in 17 career starts against the Giants. He pitched seven shutout innings against them in a 2011 opening day victory.
But for all his success on the mound, the athletic left-hander has been abysmal at the plate, picking up just one extra-base hit in 332 plate appearances entering Monday. Kershaw struck out in his first two at-bats and was due up first after retiring the Giants in order in the top of the eighth.
Dodgers manager Don Mattingly has been burned by Bochy and the Giants in the past, but his move to let Kershaw hit for himself paid immediate dividends. Kershaw hit Kontos' first pitch 400 feet to dead center.
"He was all in," catcher Buster Posey said. "I think he was swinging pretty much no matter what."
Kershaw said he couldn't believe the ball left the yard. It was the first opening day homer by a pitcher since Joe Magrane went deep for the St. Louis Cardinals in 1988.
"I never knew what that felt like," Kershaw said. "I had no idea what was going on. I was just trying to get to home plate."
After the Giants bullpen let three more runs come home during an ugly sequence, Kershaw came back out for a quick ninth and clinched his sixth career shutout. Three of them have come against the Giants.
"He did it all today," Bochy said. "You have to give him credit."
Bochy said Sandoval will be evaluated on a day-to-day basis for the rest of the week.
"It's not bothering me at all," Sandoval said of the elbow. "I was ready."