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Newcomer leads Marlins over Expos

Juneau's Chad Bentz doesn't see action in opener for both teams

Posted: Wednesday, April 07, 2004

MIAMI - In a lineup with seven players who started the final game of the World Series, Florida Marlins newcomer Hee Seop Choi made the biggest impact.

Choi drove in three runs to help the defending champions beat the Montreal Expos 4-3 Tuesday in their season opener. His two-run homer traveled an estimated 419 feet, his RBI grounder barely 100.

"The season starts, so let's get going," Choi said through an interpreter. "I'm very happy to help the team win."

Matt Perisho earned the victory by retiring Brian Schneider with the bases loaded to end the eighth, and Armando Benitez survived a home run and double in the ninth for the save. Both are new to Florida's revamped bullpen.

Montreal Expos rookie left-handed relief pitcher Chad Bentz of Juneau did not see action Tuesday in his first regular-season game on a major league roster.

Holdovers also helped the Marlins pick up right where they left off last October. Josh Beckett allowed one run in seven innings, and 73-year-old manager Jack McKeon earned his first opening-day win since 1977, when he was with Oakland.

The Marlins' 2003 title run was a shocker, and few expect them to repeat. But they started the season with a performance worthy of the championship flag that went up the center-field pole in the third inning.

The defending champs drew little national media and no network TV coverage for their first game, but they did draw a sunsplashed crowd of 55,315, the largest to see a regular-season game in Miami and a 49 percent increase over last year's opener. Entertainment included skydivers, fireworks, plenty of pomp and just enough offense - 10 hits - by the home team.

With the score 2-all, Miguel Cabrera led off the eighth with a single off Luis Ayala, and he took third on a single by Jeff Conine. Choi tapped a grounder to second baseman Jose Vidro, whose only play was to first, allowing Cabrera to score.

"Jack McKeon wanted me to drive in the run, so I didn't try to hit a home run," Choi said.

Mike Redmond followed with an RBI single.

"One of the characteristics of our team last year was coming back in late innings and never giving up," Conine said. "We did a great job of that today."

With two outs in the ninth, Vidro homered off Benitez and Carl Everett doubled. Orlando Cabrera then ended the game with a foulout to Choi, and the Expos finished 1-for-10 with runners in scoring position.

"We didn't get the big hit when we needed it," manager Frank Robinson said. "But we battled. You can't ask for any more than that."

The 25-year-old Choi, acquired in the trade that sent Gold Glove first baseman Derrek Lee to the Chicago Cubs, tied a career high with his three RBIs.

"This is a guy we have a lot of faith in," McKeon said. "Hopefully this will be a springboard for him."

The performance will be big news in Choi's native South Korea, even though it was 3 a.m. there when he homered off Livan Hernandez in the second inning to drive in Mike Lowell, who had doubled.

Hernandez said the home run came on a sinker down the middle and was his lone mistake in six innings.

"One pitch - that was the ballgame right there," he said.

Giants 7, Astros 5

HOUSTON - Andy Pettitte had Barry Bonds all figured out in his National League debut. If only the left-hander could have solved Neifi Perez.

Pettitte, making his first start for the Houston Astros, didn't let Bonds tie Willie Mays for third on the career homer list but did give up a three-run double to the light-hitting Perez in San Francisco's victory.

Dodgers 5, Padres 4

LOS ANGELES - Adrian Beltre hit a tying, two-run homer in the seventh inning, and pinch-hitter Robin Ventura singled home the winning run in the ninth as Los Angeles overcame a four-run deficit and beat San Diego.

NL Cy Young Award winner Eric Gagne earned the victory with a hitless ninth inning.

Mets 7, Braves 2

ATLANTA - Kaz Matsui homered on the first major league pitch he saw and Tom Glavine beat his former team for the first time, leading New York over Atlanta in their season opener.

Mike Piazza hit a long home run off losing pitcher Russ Ortiz for the Mets, coming off consecutive last-place finishes.

Brewers 7, Cardinals 5

ST. LOUIS - The Milwaukee Brewers got home runs from newcomers Craig Counsell, Lyle Overbay and Chad Moeller in a victory over St. Louis.

Winning pitcher Doug Davis worked into the seventh inning and the Brewers battered St. Louis pitching for the second straight day. Milwaukee moved to 2-0 for the first time since 1995, when it won its first three games.

Rockies 6, Diamondbacks 2

PHOENIX - Shawn Estes outpitched Randy Johnson and Colorado won on opening day for the first time in three years.



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