An Opening Day for the ages 

click to enlarge Slick-fielding shortstop Brandon Crawford, right, and the rest of the Giants kick off the season Monday against the revamped rival Dodgers in a game that could set the tone for the season. - GETTY IMAGES FILE PHOTO
  • Getty Images File Photo
  • Slick-fielding shortstop Brandon Crawford, right, and the rest of the Giants kick off the season Monday against the revamped rival Dodgers in a game that could set the tone for the season.

Everyone seemed to be healthy again, back at work after that seasonal bug, commonly known as March Madness, tore through offices across The City a couple of weeks ago.

But in the waning hours of Easter Sunday, a cacophony of sniffles could be heard off in the distance as another virus swept through town: Opening Day Delirium.

You’re probably unfamiliar with this malady as it isn’t an annual affliction like March Madness. In fact, it’s fairly uncommon. With a 162-game season, it’s rare for one baseball game to be so dizzying, infectious like the bubonic plague.

But today’s showdown between the Giants and the Los Angeles Dodgers at Chavez Ravine should make your head spin, an Opening Day matchup that’s dripping with intrigue.

Sure, this is the 33rd Opening Day meeting between the clubs, dating back to the 6-5 barnburner that the Giants pulled out on April 27, 1891 — hardly anything new. But the rivalry last year experienced its biggest shift since it moved to the West Coast, making 2013 the most highly anticipated Giants-Dodgers race in more than 50 years.

The Giants’ faithful has always viewed the Dodgers as an evil empire: the glitz and glamour of Hollywood vs. the hippie authenticity of the Bay Area. But when Magic Johnson’s group took the helm last year, the differences between the clubs intensified and the Dodgers truly became the George Steinbrenners of the West Coast.

This isn’t to say that the Giants are the workingman’s team. That label still belongs to the A’s. But they’re a ballclub that wins with clubhouse chemistry, sound fundamentals and a smart office, not big checks and loud splashes.

They may squander $126 million on a Barry Zito every now and again, but if you look at the roster, the nucleus (Matt Cain, Tim Lincecum, Buster Posey, Pablo Sandoval, Sergio Romo, Brandon Belt) is homegrown and the supporting cast (Angel Pagan, Marco Scutaro, Hunter Pence) was acquired without maxing out the credit card.

The Dodgers spent nearly $300 million last summer, bringing in Hanley Ramirez, Josh Beckett, Adrian Gonzalez and Carl Crawford, and they let the division slip away while the Giants won the World Series.

How did the Boys in Blue respond? They threw another $200 million on the table for pitchers Zack Greinke and Hyun-Jin Ryu, running the payroll up to a Major League Baseball-record $230 million. The question that looms over the season: What happens if all those sleeping bats and arms suddenly wake up?

On top of this plotline is a pitching matchup that could rival Sandy Koufax and Juan Marichal with a little more seasoning. Cain, of course, is coming off a season in which he pitched a perfect game, started the All-Star Game and took the hill in three straight series-clinching wins while lefty Clayton Kershaw, the 2011 Cy Young Award winner, is the Dodgers’ stingiest pitcher since Orel Hershiser led them to a World Series title in 1988.

This game isn’t going to decide anything, though, just bragging rights until Madison Bumgarner and Ryu take the mound Tuesday. But if you’re feeling under the weather today, you know what you’ve come down with, and the only remedy is a day on the couch.

Paul Gackle is a columnist for The San Francisco Examiner. He can be reached at and followed on Twitter @GackleReport.

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