Fifty years to the day after the opening of Dodger Stadium, Maury Wills was given a pregame celebration followed by an act of personal appreciation by Dee Gordon, a game-changer with his speed and athleticism.
Gordon, the Dodgers' sensational young shortstop, played his role in a 2-1 victory over the Pirates in front of 56,000. Precisely the way Wills did a half century ago when he was the National League's Most Valuable Player with a record 104 stolen bases.
"Maury's one of my idols," Gordon said. "I look at him as a role model and mentor. I'm definitely glad he was here to see this."
Gordon was the starter and the finisher. He manufactured the Dodgers' first run behind Clayton Kershaw, watched Andre Ethier celebrate his 30th birthday with a go-ahead homer in the eighth and then started the game-ending double play on swift Andrew McCutchen for closer Javy Guerra.
"That was a quick transfer to get a fast runner," Guerra said, having envisioned it ending just the way it happened when he released a fastball, down and away, with Alex Presley aboard on a single.
"That's a game a good team wins," the closer added following his third save, "and we think we're a great team."
The Dodgers certainly are off and running with a 4-1 start, and it's Gordon getting them out of the blocks in front of the power production of Matt Kemp and Ethier, each with nine RBIs already.
Gordon found open space in shallow right for a single leading off against right-hander Kevin Correia. After stealing second, his fourth of the young season, Gordon advanced on Mark Ellis' out and scored on Kemp's ground ball to shortstop.
"Dee, what he does, that's what he's basically able to do," Dodgers manager Don Mattingly said, the former Yankees superstar clearly feeling the excitement of the home opener in a Yogi/Casey moment.
Mattingly pointed out that Ellis "probably has had five at-bats where he's given himself up" with productive outs, something teammates always appreciate.
Kershaw, who has seen Gordon ignite the Dodgers early, understands how that can impact a pitcher.
"It's tough being the opposing team with that guy at the top of the lineup," said Kershaw, whose seven strong innings warranted a win that went to Kenley Jansen with one dominant inning in front of Guerra. "You can't let him get on base, or it's a double."
Correia managed to shut down the Dodgers for five innings after Gordon's run. He handed it over to Juan Cruz for one scoreless inning of relief before Ethier, getting ahead in the count, unloaded the game-winner against Grilli.
While his .238 batting average and .333 on-base mark aren't where he wants them, Gordon knows he belongs right where he is. He hit .304 in 56 games last season, stealing 24 bases in 31 attempts.
Gordon has absorbed his teachings well from Wills and coach Davey Lopes, arguably the two best baserunners and leadoff men in franchise history.
Wills was a slap-and-dash kind of hitter, using the whole field and turning on the jets. Lopes drove the ball deeper with a more aggressive approach. Both men managed to end up where they wanted -- crossing home plate.
"It doesn't matter what type of hitter you are," Gordon said. "My game is about doing whatever you can to get on base -- putting it in play, working counts, getting a walk -- and scoring."
When it was pointed out that Wills had to enjoy his performance all the way down to the soles of his formerly flying feet, Gordon beamed.
"I gave him a big hug before the game and I was there joining in when he was given a standing ovation," Gordon said. "He was a great player and he has helped me with everything, the whole game, not just basestealing. Pretty much every day, he has helped me."
Wills was in uniform this spring in Arizona, perspiring in the dry heat with his players as he ran them through various drills
Lopes is with Gordon all season, every day, conveying many of the inside nuances and tricks of the game he picked up from Wills. This is the nature of team tradition, how it works -- players willingly, eagerly passing along their accumulated wisdom to succeeding generations.
"I can't tell you any secrets," Gordon said, grinning. "But it's little things you learn. It starts when you're small, picking things up, and then you have to refine them, get better every day.
"That's what I'm trying to do now. Get better every day. I'm blessed to have guys like Maury and Davey around to help me. Maury and Davey [Lopes] are two of the best, and they've taught me so much."
Lyle Spencer is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.Less