LOS ANGELES — The Dodgers made quick work of the New York Yankees in the opener of their three-game series Friday at Dodger Stadium, and probably no one in Los Angeles shined brighter than Mookie Betts, who is no stranger to facing the Yanks.
In his first game against New York since he was a superstar with the Boston Red Sox, Betts went 4-for-4 with two home runs, three RBI and a stolen base as L.A. cruised to an 8-4 victory. Betts' show of force, which included a solo homer in a six-run first inning for the Dodgers, drew argumentative praise from manager Dave Roberts.
"He's a modern-day Rickey Henderson, instant offense," Roberts said. "There's a confidence in his swing and in between swings. Even at times when he's not doing well, the decision-making is still there. He's in a good place right now."
In response to the lofty comparison, Betts was humbled but credited his maturity as the reason for his lead-off-hitting success.
"It's a pretty cool comparison, being compared to Rickey, but Rickey was a different breed," Betts said. "As I've grown, my profile has kind of changed, and I still haven't got used to it. I still kind of see myself as a regular, typical, middle-base, lead-off hitter, but I kind of look at the change and embrace it."
The Dodgers are missing some valuable pitchers due to injury, including Julio Urías, Dustin May, Walker Buehler and Tyler Cyr, but they were able to count on their two anchors, Betts and Clayton Kershaw, to lead Friday.
Kershaw tossed seven strong innings, striking out nine and giving up two runs via solo homers to Giancarlo Stanton and Josh Donaldson. He certainly had a cushion to work with and used it as the Dodgers came out the gates raking in runs. They finished the first inning with eight hits and six runs against Yankees starter Luis Severino.
Betts' lead-off homer was the 41st of his career. According to The Athletic's Fabian Ardaya, it was his 21st lead off homer as a Dodger, one more than he hit in his six seasons with the Red Sox.
Mookie Betts now has more leadoff homers as a Dodger (21) than he did with the Red Sox (20). Took him 374 games (he played 794 with Boston). https://t.co/jzcmKcH3pR
— Fabian Ardaya (@FabianArdaya) June 3, 2023
After Betts' homer, the rest of the lineup followed with big and key swings, including a two-run homer from third baseman Max Muncy and RBI from James Outman and Miguel Vargas. For good measure, Betts closed out the first-inning scoring with an RBI single.
The Dodgers kept their foot on the gas, as they brought in two more more runs on the night and never let the Yankees dig themselves out, thanks to Kershaw's arm.
Kershaw limited reigning American League MVP Aaron Judge to no hits and struck him out twice. Judge is currently second in the league in home runs (18).
Kershaw, 35, is taking on a heavier load as the Dodgers deal with injuries, but he continues to show his ability to produce and his value after signing a one-year, $20 million extension in December.
He spoke about getting back to the level he knows he's capable of, particularly after what he called three "bad" outings in which he pitched 12 2/3 innings and gave up 10 earned runs.
"It's nice to not feel like I'm getting old," he joked.
One of the bright spots in the loss for New York was Donaldson, who, like Betts, homered twice and finished with three RBIs.
The Dodgers (35-23) will look to stay hot against the Yankees (34-25) for the next two games of this series and hope to keep Judge quiet while making the most of what they have on their current roster.
It certainly helps to have their own version of Rickey Henderson.