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Marlins open season and new ball park with loss to Cardinals: Selig raves

St. Louis Cardinals right fielder Carlos Beltran (3) watches as center fielder Jon Jay hits the wall after catching a ball hit by Miami Marlins' Giancarlo Stanton in the seventh inning of the Opening Day baseball game on Wednesday. The Cardinals won, 4-1.

St. Louis Cardinals right fielder Carlos Beltran (3) watches as center fielder Jon Jay hits the wall after catching a ball hit by Miami Marlins' Giancarlo Stanton in the seventh inning of the Opening Day baseball game on Wednesday. The Cardinals won, 4-1.

MIAMI — The sellout crowd in the Miami Marlins’ new ballpark cheered the introduction of their starters, who were accompanied by women dressed as Latin showgirls. There was another roar for Muhammad Ali, who delivered the first pitch.

Then Kyle Lohse and the World Series champion St. Louis Cardinals went to work, and the place grew quiet.

Lohse held Miami hitless until the seventh inning and pitched into the eighth to help the Cardinals win the first game in Marlins Park, 4-1 Wednesday night.

The Marlins’ new animated home-run sculpture never budged. It was the fourth inning before they even managed a baserunner, and by the time they scored in the eighth, they trailed 4-0.

“It’s a good ballpark for a pitcher, obviously,” Lohse said. “It’s pretty hard to get it out.”

New Marlins manager Ozzie Guillen was asked if the team’s new home is a pitcher’s park.

“For Lohse, yes,” Guillen said. “But it’s too early to say how the ballpark is going to play.”

The crowd of 36,601 included newly retired Cardinals manager Tony La Russa, who quietly rooted for his former team from the press box.

He watched Lohse retire the first 10 batters before hitting Emilio Bonifacio with a pitch. The runner was erased when Hanley Ramirez grounded into a double play.

Newcomer Jose Reyes singled for Miami’s first hit to start the seventh, and Omar Infante scored the Marlins’ run in the eighth on John Buck’s double. Lohse went 7 1-3 innings, allowing only two hits and one run.

The right-hander led the Cardinals last year in victories and ERA but got the call for opening day only because ace Chris Carpenter is sidelined with nerve irritation that has caused weakness in his pitching shoulder.

David Freese, the World Series MVP, had a two-run single in the first inning to give Lohse the cushion he needed. Freese and Rafael Furcal each had three of the Cardinals’ 13 hits.

“Tonight was fun,” Freese said. “It’s always nice to get the season going and to open up here, beautiful ballpark, the fans were excited about it and so were we.”

Jason Motte earned the save with a one-hit ninth, completing the four-hitter and sending the Cardinals to the clubhouse to celebrate first-year manager Mike Matheny’s debut win.

“We gave him a little water shower,” Lohse said. “Most people go with the adult beverage but we went with the water.”

Things were so bad for Guillen’s team that Marlins ace Josh Johnson recorded the ballpark’s first strikeout — but as a hitter.

Johnson allowed 10 hits and three runs in six innings. The 2010 NL ERA leader was pitching for the first time since last May 16, when shoulder inflammation ended his year.

Ramirez, making the switch to third base from shortstop, had an especially rough night. He drew scattered boos when he pulled up rather than dive for a grounder to his left, and he failed to throw out Furcal on a bunt that went for a hit. Ramirez also struck out with a runner aboard in the ninth to finish 0 for 4.

Both teams began the season with a new look. The Marlins, anticipating better attendance and higher revenue in their new home, acquired three All-Stars in an offseason spending spree. The Cardinals, coming off a thrilling late-season charge to the World Series title, lost slugger Albert Pujols to free agency and La Russa to retirement.

La Russa visited with Matheny before the game. Also on hand was baseball Commissioner Bud Selig, who said his reaction to the ballpark was, “Wow.”

Among the eye-catching features is the colorful home-run sculpture beyond the center-field wall, but the Marlins failed to activate it, although Giancarlo Stanton did send two flies to the warning track.

The retractable roof, which is expected to be closed for all but about 10 games, was opened 30 minutes before the first pitch, revealing a nearly full moon on a 79-degree evening. Surprise guest Ali delivered the first pitch, which Ramirez gently took from the champ’s hand.

The first pitch from Johnson to Rafael Furcal caught the outside corner for a called strike. Furcal then grounded to new shortstop Reyes for the first out.

Cardinals newcomer Carlos Beltran followed with the first hit, a sharp single to right. He took third on a double by Lance Berkman, and Freese drove in both runs with a two-out single.

Furcal’s two-out RBI single in the second made it 3-0, and a 50-foot groundout by Daniel Descalso brought home an insurance run in the eighth.

NOTES: The Marlins drew 41,237 for last year’s home opener, then went on to finish last in the NL in attendance for the seventh consecutive year. … Before the game, Guillen said Ramirez has a chance to be the NL MVP. … The only no-hitter on opening day was thrown in 1940 by Hall of Famer Bob Feller for the Cleveland Indians against the Chicago White Sox. … Lohse pitched five shutout innings in his only other opening-day start, which was in 2008.


Selig praises Marlins new ball park

MIAMI (AP) — Commissioner Bud Selig offered a one-word review of the Miami Marlins’ new ballpark.

“All you can say is, ‘Wow,’” Selig said.

Muhammad Ali had the same reaction.

Selig’s critique came 90 minutes before the first pitch of the first game Wednesday in the Marlins’ season opener against the World Series champion St. Louis Cardinals, who won 4-1.

The ballpark’s retractable roof, which is expected to be closed for all but about 10 games, was opened 30 minutes before the start. When the Marlins were introduced, each starter was accompanied by a young lady dressed as Latin showgirl.

The surprise guest delivering the ceremonial first pitch: Ali. He emerged from behind the center-field gate in a cart alongside team owner Jeffrey Loria, who had his arm around the former heavyweight champion.

“He’s so strong,” Loria said. “I was holding onto his hands, and he just about destroyed my hand.”

When they pulled up next to the mound, Marlins third baseman Hanley Ramirez gently took the ball from Ali’s hand.

Loria said Ali’s appearance had been in the works for two months.

“I wanted to give the fans the sense that we’re doing special things here,” Loria said. “He is still the most famous person on the face of the earth.”

Ali’s reaction to the ballpark?

“He thought it was quite special,” Loria said. “He said, ‘Wow.’”

Selig lobbied for years in support of Loria’s campaign for the ballpark. There was considerable local opposition to the $634 million project, which was financed primarily with tax money, but Selig predicted critics will eventually be swayed.

“Given what went on here, this is a very special day,” he said. “Five years from now, you won’t find anyone against this. You can debate the economic advantages, but new ballparks just have enormous sociological value. It makes that city a better place to live.”

Two other teams still seek new homes — the Tampa Bay Rays and Oakland A’s.

After finishing last in the NL in attendance each of the past seven years, the Marlins have had brisk ticket sales, and Loria said he’s certain fans will continue to come as the season progresses. He said the Marlins enjoyed good attendance in their first season, and again in 1997 and 2003 when they won the World Series.

“They come when they’re given a good club,” Loria said. “And we’ve given them a very good club this year. It’s a team where I expect us to be there in the end.”

Selig is also optimistic about the Marlins’ long-term future.

“They’ve got potential they never had before,” he said.

New manager Ozzie Guillen said attendance ultimately will depend on the team.

“To keep people excited, we’ve got to win games,” Guillen said. “That’s how you keep the excitement in any city, with any ballpark.”

In anticipation of bigger crowds, the Marlins nearly doubled their payroll this season to more than $100 million, and they expect to contend for the NL East title.

Regardless of the team record, the ballpark roof should make baseball more appealing in South Florida. Steamy weather and the frequent threat of rain made baseball outdoors a tough sell, Loria said.

“It’s impossible to play baseball in Miami in the summer,” he said.

Selig described the new ballpark as distinctive. Among its unique features is a colorful home-run sculpture beyond the center field wall, which some have called gaudy or worse.

The 73-foot-tall art work commissioned by Loria, a New York art dealer, springs into motion when a Marlins player homers, with blue marlins diving into splashing water.

“It’s a statement about Miami,” Loria said. “It’s a lot of things going on at once. It’s just meant to make you smile while the local hero is running around the bases, hopefully with people in front of him.”

Not all of Loria’s players like the sculpture. When left-hander Mark Buehrle was asked about it, he jokingly looked over his shoulder.

“Is Jeffrey around here?” Buehrle said with a smile. “I prefer not to comment.”

Said Guillen: “Mr. Loria made it. It’s beautiful.”