SYDNEY -- After a long fall, winter and spring of waiting, the time has come. The Arizona Diamondbacks, the Los Angeles Dodgers, Major League Baseball and fans across the globe can all celebrate together, because the season is finally here.
The quest for the 110th World Series opens on Saturday in Sydney, where the National League West rival D-backs and Dodgers lift the lid on the Opening Series at the hallowed Sydney Cricket Ground. A sellout crowd of close to 45,000 is expected Down Under for the game, which is slated to begin at 4 a.m. ET and 1 a.m. PT/MST (7 p.m. Sydney time).
The pitching matchup pits two left-handers against one another, with reigning NL Cy Young Award winner Clayton Kershaw getting the ball for Los Angeles. Arizona's Wade Miley was pressed into duty when the D-backs got the unfortunate news prior to their 15-hour flight to Australia that staff ace Patrick Corbin had suffered an elbow injury that will likely knock him out for the year.
So here it is, after four days in Oz that have seen players cavorting near the waves on Bondi Beach, climbing the Sydney Harbour Bridge, taking in the splendor of the famed Opera House, checking out kangaroos at the Taronga Zoo and generally soaking in the warm weather and friendly vibes of one of the world's great cities.
With those life experiences in the rear-view mirror, both teams are now looking at what's in front of them, and their goals are clear: The Dodgers want to take the next step after falling two wins short of the World Series in a six-game loss to the St. Louis Cardinals in the NL Championship Series. The D-backs want to return to contention after two seasons of .500 ball.
It all starts when Miley pitches to Dodgers leadoff hitter Yasiel Puig, and it's safe to say that both teams are glad that these games count.
"I think guys are excited to get going," said D-backs first baseman and 2013 NL MVP runner-up Paul Goldschmidt. "Guys have been working hard, and now it's kind of up to the players to go out there and play and take advantage of the opportunity that's in front of us."
For the D-backs, it will be a slightly different group. Arizona traded for slugger Mark Trumbo in the offseason, signed veteran starting pitcher Bronson Arroyo and added closer Addison Reed.
The loss of Corbin will hurt, but the team has young alternatives in Randall Delgado and possibly Archie Bradley, a 21-year-old top prospect who could be with the D-backs at some point in 2014.
"It's an angry group that knows we want to win this year," Arizona pitcher Brandon McCarthy said. "Nobody wants to be sitting at home in October again and watching other teams. It gets old when you do it."
The Dodgers weren't sitting home for much of last October, but they weren't around for the ultimate seven-game series. They have plans on getting over that hump this time around, and they've attempted to fortify their roster in an attempt to do so, bringing in veteran right-hander Dan Haren and lefty Paul Maholm for starting depth, adding Chris Perez to a deep bullpen, and signing veteran utility man Chone Figgins while returning the main nucleus of their division-winning club.
"We feel like we're tough," Dodgers manager Don Mattingly said. "We were down 10 games in the division and ended up winning by 10 or 11. To me, we went through a lot. We're not afraid of the field."
And now the Dodgers and D-backs meet on this field, in the middle of an iconic cricket stadium halfway around the world. They've brushed aside the jet lag, gotten used to the novelty of a foreign country and a converted cricket pitch, and they're ready.
Dodgers: Kershaw the obvious pick
Kershaw will start in his fourth consecutive season opener, the most for a Dodgers pitcher since Ramon Martinez. He has won Cy Young Awards in two of the last three seasons (2011 and '13) and led MLB with a 1.83 ERA last year. He's also the proud owner of a new $215 million contract. But Kershaw says he won't rest on those laurels.
"It's not even a thought, really," Kershaw said. "I realize baseball is a gift. So, if all I'm doing is playing to make the most money possible, I could see it leading to complacency. That's not why I play. I don't take the contract for granted. But it's not why I play the game. I play to win and you can't be complacent and win."
• Justin Turner made the Dodgers as a non-roster invitee and now finds himself as the Opening Day second baseman. Turner, who bats right-handed, is in to face the lefty Miley. Dee Gordon, a left-handed hitter, could make the start at second in Sunday's game against D-backs righty Trevor Cahill.
D-backs: Miley up for the challenge
Miley is not happy about the manner in which he received the Opening Day assignment, but he said he's eager to get his team started in 2014.
"There's going to be some excitement, some jitters tomorrow night when you're warming up," Miley said Friday. "But after you throw a couple of pitches, it's just baseball."
Miley is, however, a bit uneasy about one thing.
"Now, I'm starting to get nervous about the flight back," he said, admitting to a lifelong fear of flying. "I kind of want to stay here. I don't want to go back home."
• Reed, who came to Arizona after saving 69 games over the last two years for the Chicago White Sox, was announced as the closer on Thursday, beating out veteran J.J. Putz.
"I love the competition," Reed said. "If I'm in the league for 10 years and I'm closing all 10 years I want to come into that 11th season fighting for that ninth-inning job. I don't ever want it given to me. I want to bring it every single time when I go out there. I want to earn it every single year."
• Miley and Kershaw will face each other for the third time. The southpaws squared off twice last season. On May 8, Miley got the win after allowing two runs in 7 2/3 innings in a 3-2 D-backs victory at Dodger Stadium. Kershaw gave up two runs (one earned) in seven innings. On June 10, both got no-decisions in a game the D-backs won, 5-4, with a four-run ninth inning. Kershaw pitched seven innings and gave up one run. Miley allowed three runs in six innings.
• The D-backs and Dodgers played 19 times last year, with Arizona winning 10, although the Dodgers outscored the D-backs, 83-77.