April 14, 2024

To Dave Roberts, Thursday afternoon felt nostalgically, longingly, thankfully familiar.

The afternoon start time. The red, white and blue bunting. Even the traffic clogging up Vin Scully Avenue on the first of his 80 commutes, at least, into Chavez Ravine this year.

“You feel the buzz,” said Roberts, entering his ninth year as Dodgers manager. “Nothing like opening day here at Dodger Stadium.”

This year, especially.

After a historic $1.4 billion offseason spree, a winter of mounting fanbase anticipation, a spring camp of tantalizing flashes from a star-studded lineup, and … a confounding theft and gambling scandal surrounding Shohei Ohtani and his ex-interpreter, Ippei Mizuhara … Roberts and the Dodgers were more than ready to plunge into the regular season.

With a 7-1 win over the St. Louis Cardinals on Thursday, they did so with a resounding splash.

In a day that began with celebration of a figure from the Dodgers’ storied past — former third baseman Adrián Beltré threw out the first pitch, part of a pregame recognition for his forthcoming Hall of Fame induction — the team’s victorious home opener was keyed by the newest stars of its auspicious present.

In Ohtani’s first Dodgers home game, following his $700 million signing with the team in December, the two-time MVP had two hits and a walk, thrilling a crowd of 52,667 that already included an army of his No. 17 jerseys.

On the mound, fellow offseason acquisition Tyler Glasnow looked every bit the ace the Dodgers had advertised him as, mowing through the Cardinals with mid-90 mph fastballs, swing-and-miss sliders and even a few, newly added two-seam sinkers in a six-inning, one-run gem.

They were backed up by a more familiar cast of characters, with Mookie Betts and Freddie Freeman each going deep while reaching base a combined six times.

Dodgers star Mookie Betts celebrates while rounding the bases after hitting a home run during the third inning Thursday.

Dodgers star Mookie Betts celebrates while rounding the bases after hitting a home run during the third inning Thursday.

(Robert Gauthier / Los Angeles Times)

And after splitting their two-game season-opening series against the San Diego Padres in South Korea last week, in a pair of underwhelming performances marred by defensive lapses and inconsistent pitching, the Dodgers looked much more like the high-priced juggernaut most around the sport have expected them to be.

“People talk about our roster, but everyone knows you don’t play on paper,” Roberts said. “I just think we got to play good baseball. It’s about going out there and showing we’re a good ballclub.”

Leading up to Thursday’s home-opener, much of the attention around the team had shifted to Ohtani’s dramatic saga off the field.

Last week, the two-way talent accused Mizuhara, his longtime interpreter and close friend, of stealing millions from one of Ohtani’s bank accounts to pay off gambling debts. The wire transfers had surfaced in a federal investigation into an allegedly illegal bookmaking ring, as The Times first reported March 20. And, despite investigations into the situation by both federal authorities and Major League Baseball, the Dodgers did their best to downplay the discourse about the distractions.

“You have to be able to compartmentalize,” Roberts said. “You have to be a professional. And we have a lot of guys in the clubhouse that are professionals.”

Dodgers star Shohei Ohtani singles during the fifth inning Thursday against the Cardinals.

Dodgers star Shohei Ohtani singles during the fifth inning Thursday against the Cardinals.

(Wally Skalij/Los Angeles Times)

Indeed, the only real flaw of the Dodgers’ performance Thursday came in the first inning, when Ohtani ripped a double into the right-field corner but was tagged out at third base after failing to see Betts get held up in front of him.

For a brief moment, Cardinals starter Miles Mikolas — who seemingly criticized the Dodgers offseason earlier this month by saying they are “playing checkbook baseball” — had an opportunity to escape an early jam.

But then, Freeman drove in the game’s first run with a single. Max Muncy tacked on another with a sacrifice fly. And with Glasnow dealing — he struck out five batters while allowing just two hits and a walk — the Dodgers never looked back, happily leaving a hectic spring behind them as they embarked, in earnest, upon an eagerly anticipated new season.

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