Padres fall short, but they’re ready for the long haul

Matt Kemp

Anxious for the Padres’ opening day? Good luck beating new San Diego slugger Matt Kemp to Dodger Stadium on Monday morning.

“I think he got here at 4:30,” Padres manager Bud Black said. Black was kidding, but then again, maybe not. It seems the Padres are as excited for the season as their revved fan base.

“This is a good group of guys,” fresh friar Justin Upton said. “You have to be optimistic when a team is locked in like this.”

Locked and loaded, these Padres, and that was before general manager A.J. Preller talked the Braves out of lights-out closer Craig Kimbrel. “He makes us better,” Black said. “That is a big lift for us.” But when the 2015 curtain rose, it was the Dodgers defeating the new-look Padres, 6-3.

OK, so San Diego won’t go Kentucky and win its first 38 games. Although the Padres had numerous chances to be undefeated after one contest.

L.A.’s warm welcome for a returning Kemp quickly melted when he knocked in the first run. But kudos to Dodgers fans for giving Kemp his due, and the organization doing the same on the message board. “Everybody feels good on opening day,” said Kemp, who tipped his helmet to the crowd.

But this was an opening day like no other, through the Padres’ prism anyway. Preller completed a tummy tuck and face lift with this roster, and you know, cosmetic surgery always plays well in Hollywood.

Kemp appreciates gracing a marquee and he proved it Monday. He knocked in all three Padres runs and how about some help, guys?

“We lost today and that is my main concern is trying to get wins,” said Kemp, who singled and doubled. “We didn’t do enough today.”

The Dodgers erased that 1-0 deficit and went ahead 2-1 in the fourth when Adrian Gonzalez homered and Carl Crawford chased in Howie Kendrick after center fielder Wil Myers lost Kendrick’s fly in the sun for a triple. But two more Kemp RBIs in the fifth gave new ace James Shields the lead and this is where we write the final score, right?

Not so fast.

The Dodgers tinkered with their squad, too.

After getting production from Kendrick, the ex-Angel, former Phillie Jimmy Rollins smacked a three-run blast in the eighth off Shawn Kelley, which gave the Padres a standing-eight count. “I’ve seen that too much,” Kemp said. “He put a good swing on that. He is clutch, man. He gets those big hits when they need him.”

There was no climbing from the mat in the ninth, although Jedd Gyorko reached when plucked by reliever Chris Hatcher. But Yonder Alonso, who had a big error in the eighth, grounded into a double play. When Alexi Amarista struck out, the Padres were in the cellar and the Dodgers atop the NL West.

While the first day didn’t go so swell, the Padres have 161 outings to erase the Dodgers’ one-game cushion.

“That’s a good lineup over there,” Shields said. “And any time you face (Kershaw), you know you’re in for a battle.”

Black’s boys never shied from competing. That’s certainly not the case going forward, with a club stocked with proven players. That includes one Matt Kemp. “He’s going to be doing that all year,” Shields said. “I’m just glad he is on our side.”

While this opener didn’t come with a win, nearly every new Padre contributed — with Kemp leading the way.

“Dodgers fans like their Dodgers, so you’re going to get some boos and I heard some out in right field,” Kemp said. “That’s OK, I like boos.”
The Padres, even in a loss, were shown why they like Kemp.

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