PITTSBURGH - Garrett Jones endured 12 patience-trying seasons in organized baseball waiting to play on a major league opening day. The Dodgers only wish he had waited one more year.
Jones homered in his first two at-bats, pinch-hitter Ryan Church doubled home three runs and the Pittsburgh Pirates started the new season the way they wound down 2009 by roughing up Los Angeles 11-5 on Monday.
On a day when the weather was more like a typical Southern California day in early April than one in Pittsburgh — sunshine, temperatures in the mid 70s — the Pirates played more like the two-time defending NL West champion Dodgers and vice versa.
The Pirates, coming off a record-setting 17th consecutive losing season with the majors’ lowest payroll, won on opening day for the fourth season in a row as Ryan Doumit added a three-run homer in the eighth off George Sherrill. Doumit also doubled and scored twice.
Jones, the second major leaguer to hit 20-plus homers after not hitting one until at least July 1, is constantly asked if his 21 homers over half the 2009 season as a 28-year-old rookie were an anomaly. His first two at-bats suggest they weren’t.
“It was awesome,” said Jones, who couldn’t play his way onto the Twins’ or Braves’ roster before signing with Pittsburgh as a minor league free agent.
Jones’ two-run drive estimated at 456 feet bounced into the Allegheny River beyond the right-field stands following Akinori Iwamura’s leadoff walk in the first. Jones followed that with an opposite-field shot off Vicente Padilla that found the front row of left-field stands, putting Pittsburgh up 3-2.
“It’s only one game, but it feels good,” Jones said. “It’s a long season and there’s a lot of games left, but I’m going to try to keep the same approach.”
The Pirates were forced to yank starter Zach Duke in the fifth after only 79 pitches because they are batting the pitcher eighth, and Duke was due up with a run in and the bases loaded. Duke (1-0) gave up two runs on seven hits.
Church, in his first at-bat with Pittsburgh, made the strategy pay off by hitting a bases-clearing double to right off reliever Ramon Ortiz. Ronny Cedeno, batting ninth, finished off the five-run inning with an RBI single.
Church hinted that the Pirates are motivated by talk that this could be one of their worst teams in years — their payroll is about $34 million, or nearly the same as their 1992 team.
“We had a team dinner and got a chance to air some things out, we’re focused and not paying too much attention to all that stuff that’s outside and we can’t control,” Church said. “I think a lot of guys on this team have heart and a lot of pride in what we’re doing, and you don’t want to embarrass yourself, so give it everything you got.”
The Dodgers are 24-11 in Pittsburgh since PNC Park opened in 2001, but have lost four of five there. They dropped three of four and failed on successive days to clinch the NL West there during the final 10 days of last season, when the Pirates had lost 23 of 26 and were en route to losing 99 games.
“It’s the first game,” Ortiz said. “Everybody will be fine.”
They drew closer with a three-run seventh that included Manny Ramirez’s two-run single, but Brendan Donnelly struck out Russell Martin and Andre Ethier in his Pirates debut to end the eighth with runners on first and third and Los Angeles trailing 8-5.
“There’s not much positive to take out of this,” manager Joe Torre said.
Padilla (0-1), who came to camp expecting to be the No. 4 starter and pitched like one, gave up seven runs and six hits in 4 1-3 innings for his first loss with Los Angeles. He went 4-0 down the stretch last season after being picked up from Texas.
“We’re not going to have a losing season, we’re not going to lose this season because of this one game,” Padilla said.
Padilla tried keeping his sense of humor, suggesting the fan in a small boat who grabbed Jones’ first homer “maybe got a fish with the ball.”
NOTES: The Dodgers outhit the Pirates 12-10 but left 10 on base. ... The teams hadn’t opened against each other since 1955, when the Dodgers were in Brooklyn. ... Dodgers RHP Ramon Troncoso left the club to be with his wife for the birth of daughter Isabella. ... Church is 3 for 7 with five RBIs against Ortiz. ... OF Brandon Moss cleared waivers and was sent outright by Pittsburgh to Triple-A Indianapolis. ... The crowd of 39,024 was the fourth largest at PNC Park. ... Jones is the sixth Pirates hitter to homer twice on opening day and the second in three seasons. Xavier Nady did it in 2008. Jones went 2 for 4 with a walk and scored three runs.
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