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Mookie Betts shows his range in Dodgers’ 8-1 victory over Giants

Dodgers right fielder Mookie Betts (50) slides safely into home by avoiding the tag of Giants catcher Tyler Heineman.
Dodgers right fielder Mookie Betts (50) slides safely into home by avoiding the tag of Giants catcher Tyler Heineman during the seventh inning Thursday.
(Robert Gauthier / Los Angeles Times)

A glimpse into Mookie Betts’ game-changing skill set, a five-tool kit the Dodgers had admired from afar for years, could be found in the seventh inning of their season-opening 8-1 win over San Francisco Giants on Thursday.

First, he lined a single to left field off submariner Tyler Rogers for his first hit as a Dodger with the score tied at one. After asking for the ball to be retrieved as a keepsake, he dashed to third base on Cody Bellinger’s double.

Moments later, he sprinted home, perfectly reading a groundball to the second baseman with the infield drawn in. His headfirst slide beat the tag — a replay review confirmed the call — and he bounced off the ground with the Dodgers leading for the first time in 2020.

“I was running on contact,” Betts said. “I saw it on the ground and I tried to turn on the turbo to get there and I was able to get in safe.”

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The Dodgers added four more runs in the inning. Kiké Hernández contributed a two-run single en route to finishing four for five with a home run and five RBI.

The blitz ensured that the Dodgers’ 60-game sprint began like most of their games under normal circumstances over the last seven years: with a win over a division rival.

The difference this time was Betts. A day after signing a 12-year, $365-million contract before playing a meaningful game in a Dodgers uniform, the star right fielder began his career by kneeling during the national anthem in protest of racial injustice and police brutality.

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He then went hitless in his first three at-bats, striking out in his first plate appearance, before jump-starting the Dodgers in the seventh inning.

“It felt like a weight came off my back, just trying to get that first one,” Betts said. “The first one seems like it’s the hardest to get.”

The Dodgers pulled off the win despite putting Clayton Kershaw on the injured list with back stiffness hours before first pitch.

Dustin May, 22, took his place, becoming the first Dodgers rookie to start on opening day since Fernando Valenzuela in 1981. May, making his fifth career start, allowed one run on seven hits in 41/3 innings.

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“He kept his composure,” Hernández said of May. “He wasn’t nervous or intimidated by the amount of cardboard we had in the stands tonight.”

May started an opening day unlike any other amid the novel coronavirus outbreak.

The festive bunting was missing. Fans were absent, replaced by a few thousand cardboard cutouts of people who made donations to the Dodgers’ charitable foundation for their inanimate presence, so there was no roar when Betts was introduced as a Dodger for the first time.

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The coaches, managers and bench players wore masks.

A few bench players and staff members occupied seats next to the dugouts under canopies to ensure proper social distancing. Even the rules were different; it was the first regular-season game in Dodger Stadium with designated hitters.

The national anthem singer, Keith Williams Jr., recited the anthem atop the batter’s eye beyond the center-field wall while Betts took a knee. Cody Bellinger and Max Muncy each placed a hand on his shoulders. On the other side, a few Giants, including manager Gabe Kapler, kneeled.

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To even hold the game the Los Angeles County Department of Public Health had to recently alter its quarantine protocols for sports teams. The department previously mandated that individuals who came into close contact with someone who tested positive for the novel coronavirus had to quarantine for 14 days even if that individual didn’t test positive or displayed symptoms.

The change stipulates that teams are permitted to place people in a “modified quarantine” for essential players and staff who come in contact with infected people as long as they’re asymptomatic. They can participate in team activities if they test negative every day for two weeks, quarantine at home and wear a medical grade face mask when not practicing or playing.

It was a day earmarked for Kershaw. The future of Hall Famer was named the Dodgers’ opening day starter twice — in March and again in July. It would have been his ninth opening day start, extending a franchise record. But he hurt his back working out Tuesday and didn’t progress enough for the outing. He was placed on the 10-day injured list hours before first pitch. His presence Thursday was limited to television commercials for Hankook and Skechers.

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May, the organization’s top pitching prospect, was picked because he was the best option on schedule to log a starter’s innings. He had been scheduled to pitch in a simulated game Wednesday but the Dodgers scratched the plans knowing he could be needed Thursday. He wasn’t on the club’s opening day roster when it was announced in the morning. By 3 p.m., he was the starter.

“I was anxious,” May said.

The red-locked right-hander displayed his elite arsenal, touching 100 mph in the second inning. He allowed a run in the third on Pablo Sandoval’s sacrifice fly, and exited with runners on the corners and one out in the fifth inning. Caleb Ferguson entered and wiggled out of the jam with an inning-ending double play.

The Dodgers had tied the score in the fourth inning when Corey Seager smacked a two-out double and scored on Hernández’s bloop single to left field off Giants starter Johnny Cueto.

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Three innings later, Betts made his mark and the Dodgers had the lead for good.


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