Jones' two homers help sink Dodgers
Pirates' offense comes to life in Opening Day triumph
PITTSBURGH -- The Pirates opened the season in front of one of the largest crowds in PNC Park history, but also amid questions about their offense.Would this lineup -- one that includes three players with less than one year of Major League service and only two members of the Pirates' 2009 Opening Day lineup -- be able to push across ample run support for its pitching staff? Well, for at least one day, those concerns were hushed, as the offense answered the question with an emphatic yes. The Pirates jumped all over Dodgers starter Vicente Padilla, as they tallied eight runs in the first five innings and then held on for an 11-5 win over the defending National League West champs. Monday's balanced production doesn't completely alleviate concerns about Pittsburgh's offense, but it certainly pleased the 39,024 on hand to watch the Pirates' first season opener in Pittsburgh since 2005. Never before had a Pirates team scored 11 runs on Opening Day in Pittsburgh. "There's such a history here of bad taste in your mouth," starter Zach Duke said. "For us to come out and perform the way we did today was definitely a big plus for us." "The way we came out, the way we played, this is what Opening Day is all about," catcher Ryan Doumit added. "You couldn't have asked for anything else. It's only one game and all that, but it means a lot more to us than people think." It meant that, for one afternoon, there was little talk about the Bucs' 17 straight losing seasons or the elusive mark of .500. For one day, the Pirates' offense -- and defense, too, for that matter -- could do little wrong. It wasn't necessarily vindication. But it was intended to prove a point. Regardless of external expectations, this club thinks it can win. "Right now, everyone is poking fun at us and saying we're not going anywhere," manager John Russell said. "That's the nature of the business. There are a lot of people who probably would like to see [the losing-seasons streak] continue because it's fun to write about. "We have talent. They know that to be able to win, they're going to have to do it together. We're not the type of team that is going to out-talent people, out-home run people. We're going to have to do things well." As it would turn out, the Pirates did out-homer Los Angeles in this one, with six of the team's 11 runs coming via the long ball. Garrett Jones jump-started the fun with a game-tying, two-run homer in the first that easily cleared the right-field wall and bounced into the Allegheny River. Estimated distance: 456 feet. Jones added an opposite-field solo shot two innings later to become the sixth player in Pirates history with two Opening Day homers. "That crowd just pumps you up so much when you get a big hit and drive in runs," said Jones, who was one of six Pirates players experiencing Opening Day for the first time. "I couldn't have dreamt it any better. That crowd, it just gets the butterflies pumping and adrenaline going." Jones' second homer gave the Pirates a 3-2 advantage, but it was Russell's decision to pull Duke in the fifth that swung this game open. Duke hadn't been at his sharpest, but he had found a way to keep L.A. off the scoreboard after allowing two first-inning runs. He stranded a total of six baserunners, including at least one in each of the first five innings. "I had to battle," said Duke, who picked up the first Opening Day win of his career. "But I figured out ways to get outs when I needed to." Still, when his spot came up in the fifth with two outs and the bases loaded, Russell didn't hesitate to call on pinch-hitter Ryan Church. It was evidence of his confidence in both Church and the team's new-look bullpen. "We had to get something out of that inning," Russell said in explaining the move. "You've got the bases loaded and he's a quality hitter. We felt like it was a good time to try and open up the game." Church delivered, knocking a bases-clearing double off reliever Ramon Ortiz into the right-center-field gap. "That was the backbreaker," Dodgers manager Joe Torre said. "Behind, 2-0 [in the count], you know here comes a fastball, so you're always ready," said Church, who went 4-for-10 as a pinch-hitter last season. "He just left it right over the heart of the plate, and I was looking to drive it." Doumit later added a trio of RBIs to his day as well, crushing a homer in the eighth that gave Octavio Dotel some added breathing room when he came out to make his Pirates debut. In all, this supposedly suspect offense connected for 10 hits, including four with runners in scoring position. Every hitter reached base at least once, with Ronny Cedeno and Jones finishing with multihit games. "I think we're going to be a scrappy bunch, but this is the style of play people can get used to us playing," Doumit said of the balanced attack. "Every day, it's going to be someone different playing the hero." With the win, Pittsburgh has now taken four consecutive season openers, the longest string of victories since the club reeled off six straight from 1935-40. The past three Opening Day victories haven't done much to change the course of the season, but that doesn't mean this retooled club is resigned to thinking this year can't be different. For one day -- the first day -- everything was nearly perfect. "As long as we continue to do that and feed off each other, maybe it can be like a snowball effect," Church said. "We really aren't going to pay attention to all that stuff that is outside that we can't control. We can only control what happens between the lines. I think a lot of guys here have heart and a lot of pride."
Jenifer Langosch is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.