Friday, April 08, 2011
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Rockies spoil Pirates' home opener 7-1

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[April 08, 2011]  PITTSBURGH (AP) -- The red-white-and-blue bunting was draped from the facades just so. The sun-soaked crowd buzzed with refreshed optimism, hoping this year might be different. The pregame tribute to the Pirates' beloved former manager was touching.

HardwareEverything was perfect and in place for Pittsburgh to have a memorable home opener.

Esmil Rogers wrecked it.

Colorado's No. 5 starter allowed four singles and pitched into the eighth inning, Troy Tulowitzki homered and drove in three runs and the Rockies roughed up Pittsburgh 7-1 on Thursday to ruin the Pirates' first home game under new manager Clint Hurdle.

Rogers (1-0), who won the final spot in Colorado's rotation with a strong finish in spring training, looked more like the staff's ace. He mixed a devastating 95 mph fastball with several breaking pitches to overwhelm the Pirates over 7 1-3 dominant innings.

After giving up singles to the first two batters, the right-hander retired 22 of 23, including 18 straight.

"Rogers was special," Tulowitzki said "I don't know who I told in spring training, but he was my pick to kind of surprise some people. Any time a guy's throwing 94, 95 as a starter and he keeps it up the whole game, you know he's got good stuff.

"If he throws strikes, I like his chances."

Tulowitzki connected for his third homer in the fourth off Paul Maholm (0-1) to make it 3-1 as the Rockies won their fourth straight. The All-Star shortstop is batting .451 (46 of 102) with six homers and 18 RBIs in his career against Pittsburgh.

"He's a game changer in the field and a game changer with the bat," said Hurdle, who managed Tulowitzki for three-plus seasons.

Andrew McCutchen had the only RBI for Pittsburgh, which was hoping for a much better beginning at home.

Following a 4-2 trip to Chicago and St. Louis, the Pirates, who won only 17 road games last season, were welcomed home warmly by 39,219 fans -- the second-largest crowd in PNC Park history -- who were eager to see if a team full of youngsters that lost 105 times in 2010 had grown up.

It's still too early to say.

"It's just one game," McCutchen said. "You feel like you owe it to the fans to win on opening day."

Hurdle's first home game for Pittsburgh came against the Rockies, the team he took to the World Series in 2007 and skippered for eight-plus seasons before being fired two years ago. It was also a homecoming of sorts for Colorado manager Jim Tracy, a close of friend of Hurdle, who managed the Pirates in 2006-07.

The two shared a hug and some laughs before the game, but then it was all business.

"I really wanted to beat them," Hurdle said.

He was certainly familiar with many of the players in Colorado's lineup, but only managed Rogers during spring training in 2009.

The 25-year-old right-hander sensed during pregame warmups that he could have a big day

"Out in the bullpen, I had command of all my pitches, solid changeup, curveball, slider, fastball, sinker," he said. "I felt great with all my pitches."

Tracy liked everything about Rogers' outing.

"I don't know if you can pitch much better," he said. "He did a tremendous job of keeping their entire lineup off-balance."

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In the hours leading up to the opening pitch, generations of Pittsburgh fans, many of them too young to remember when the beloved Buccos were a contender, geared up for a home schedule they can only hope is more enjoyable than so many before.

After 18 consecutive losing seasons, the Pirates are way overdue.

Older fans wearing Roberto Clemente's sacred No. 21 mingled with youngsters sporting McCutchen's No. 22 and the No. 18 of Neil Walker, the local kid who grew up rooting for the Pirates and believes he and his teammates can finally fill the void Pittsburghers feel between seasons of Steelers football.

During pregame ceremonies, the Pirates paid tribute to part of their past by honoring late manager Chuck Tanner, who guided Pittsburgh to their most recent World Series title in 1979, when Sister Sledge's disco hit "We Are A Family" became a championship anthem.

All was good, and then Walker made a throwing error in the first that helped the Rockies take a 2-0 lead.

With one out and a runner at first, he cleanly fielded Carlos Gonzalez's tailor-made double play ball but threw wildly to second, the ball skipping past shortstop Ronny Cedeno and into foul territory. By the time the Pirates corralled it, Dexter Fowler had scored and Gonzalez was at third. Tulowitzki's sacrifice fly made it 2-0.

"I felt like I let the air out of the entire building," Walker said. "I made Paul's job a whole lot harder for him. I just blew it. A terrible play."

NOTES: Colorado went 31-50 on the road last season. ... Tanner, who died in February at 82, was remembered for being the Pirates' fearless on-field leader. "If he was captain of the Titanic, he would have told the passengers they were stopping for ice," said Greg Brown, one of the team's broadcasters. The Pirates are wearing patches on their jerseys with Tanner's No. 7. His son, Bruce, threw out the ceremonial first pitch to former catcher Manny Sanguillen. ... The Pirates are 4-7 in openers at PNC and 72-53 overall. ... Pittsburgh's Jose Tabata has hit safely in all seven games. ... The Pirates had played 26 straight error-free innings before Walker's miscue in the first.

[Associated Press; By TOM WITHERS]

Copyright 2011 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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