Bell, Thome and Millwood off to solid starts


MIAMI (AP) -- It didn't take long for the Philadelphia Phillies'
offseason spending spree to start paying off.

Mon, March 31

He struck out in his first at-bat as a Marlin. He homered in his last at-bat of the day. In between, Pudge Rodriguez flied out to center, committed a passed ball that led to a Phillies' run and helped attract 37,137 people to Opening Day.

But after his first game in Miami, the biggest Pudge news was the suggestion by Florida starting pitcher Josh Beckett that he and his new catcher never got on the same wavelength.

After allowing seven runs (just two earned) in 2 2/3 innings, Beckett said he couldn't figure out how he wound up throwing 50 percent breaking balls.

"It's mind-boggling," he told the media horde around his locker, "how it got like that. . . . That's not how I pitch."

Beckett tried to accept his share of the blame, saying he only shook off Rodriguez "two or three times" and that, in retrospect, he should have shaken him off more. But Pudge appeared notably tense in answering questions about pitch selection -- which was always an issue when he was in Texas.

"He kept getting behind," Rodriguez said. "That's why he got into trouble. . . . But we didn't lose because I called too many breaking balls or offspeed pitches or fastballs. We lost the game because of the errors we made."

And he's right. But this is a story to keep your eye on as the Marlins' season unfolds.

Jim Thome doubled on the first pitch he saw, David Bell singled
in his first at-bat and Kevin Millwood took a shutout into the
sixth inning. With the three newcomers leading the way on opening
day, Philadelphia took advantage of a sloppy showing by the Florida
Marlins to win 8-5 Monday.

"I think we showed a lot of people today what we're capable
of,'' Millwood said.

Management committed almost $185 million to salaries during the
winter in hopes of transforming the Phillies into contenders, and
they looked like much better ballclub, jumping to an 8-0 lead.

Thome, whose $85 million, six-year contract was the largest of
the offseason, went 3-for-4 with a walk and an RBI. Bell went
2-for-4 with a walk and scored three times. And while former
Atlanta teammates Greg Maddux and Tom Glavine were hit hard in
opening-day defeats, Millwood allowed three runs -- two earned -- and
four hits in six-plus innings.

"Those were good pickups,'' manager Larry Bowa said. "They
were in the center of everything today.''

The game drew 37,137 fans on a 65-degree afternoon, the coldest
home opener in Miami. But while the big crowd and weather were
unusual for the Marlins, their hapless play was all too familiar.

Josh Beckett, at 22 the youngest Opening-Day starter in the
team's 11-season history, lasted just 2 2/3 innings. Errors by
third baseman Mike Lowell and second baseman Luis Castillo led to
five unearned runs in the third, and $10 million acquisition Ivan
Rodriguez let in another run on a passed ball.

Seven Florida pitchers walked eight, and the Marlins trailed by
eight runs before Rodriguez hit a two-run homer in the sixth.

"That was an ugly game,'' manager Jeff Torborg said. "We won't
play many like that -- I hope.''

Each fan received a coupon for a free hot dogs, a gesture of
goodwill after the Marlins angered fans by running out last season
in their first home game under owner Jeffrey Loria. But an hour
into the season, the well-fed crowd -- the Marlins' largest since
July 14, 2001 -- was booing the home team.

Loria tried to shrug off the performance.

"It was a great day. A wonderful crowd. Good weather. And,'' he
said, "I guarantee you we won't lose tomorrow.''

Both teams are off Tuesday.

Thome, who hit 52 home runs last year for Cleveland, quickly
made his presence felt as the Phillies' new cleanup hitter. He
doubled off the base of the wall with two out in the first to score
Bobby Abreu, who had walked.

"Coming over here over the winter, you always have a bit of
nervousness,'' Thome said. "To come through on the first pitch was
really nice.''

Bell singled, then scored on Marlon Byrd's bloop single to make
it 2-0 in the second.

Lowell's wild throw kept the third inning going, and two runs
scored when a bases-loaded roller went between Castillo's legs.

"I don't feel good right now,'' Castillo said. "It was an easy
play. That was the game.''

The rally also included four walks and RBI singles by Abreu and
Mike Lieberthal.

Millwood did the rest, retiring 14 in a row during one stretch
in the first opening-day start of his seven-year career.

"He lived up to expectations,'' Bowa said. "He did a great

Millwood also drove in a run with a bases-loaded walk.

As promised, the Marlins unveiled an aggressive running game.
Newcomer Juan Pierre reached on a bunt in the first, then stole
second and third but was stranded. In the next inning, the
slow-footed Lowell reached on an infield hit and surprised the
Phillies by stealing second. But he was also stranded, and by the
third inning, Florida was down by six runs and no longer stealing.

The Marlins scored in the seventh on a throwing error by Bell at
third, and pinch-hitter Brian Banks tripled and scored on a
groundout in the eighth to make it 8-5. But Jose Mesa pitched a
1-2-3 ninth for the save.

Beckett, who has yet to win in April in six career appearances,
needed 80 pitches to retire eight batters. He gave up five hits,
four walks and seven runs, but only two were earned.

"We're just disappointed we didn't put on a better show,''
Lowell said.

Game notes
LHP Tommy Phelps, who has been in professional baseball
since 1993, made his major league debut in the third in relief of
Beckett. He pitched one-third of an inning and gave up a hit and a
walk. ... Millwood went 0-3 with a 7.65 ERA against the Marlins
last year. ... The Phillies improved to 8-21 in openers since 1975,
with two wins against Florida.