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Beltran's two-run homer caps thrilling comeback

4/6/2004

KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) -- The first game-winning home run on
opening day in Kansas City Royals history will forever be etched in
the mind of the man who hit it.

"This I'm going to remember for the rest of my life," Carlos
Beltran gushed. "I'm going to live with this. Opening day. A
walk-off home run. It doesn't get any better than this."

Trailing all day after the Chicago White Sox scored four in the
second, the Royals tied it 7-7 on Mendy Lopez's three-run pinch
homer off Damaso Marte in the ninth.

Then after Angel Berroa singled, Beltran hit Marte's 2-2 pitch
over the wall in left-center, giving the Royals a 9-7 victory in
front of 41,575 fans -- Kansas City's largest opening day crowd
since becoming a major league town with the arrival of the
Athletics in 1955.

"I will never forget that feeling as I ran around the bases,"
Beltran said.

The White Sox took a 7-3 lead into the ninth, but Cliff Politte
walked the first two batters and Billy Koch came in and gave up a
run-scoring double to Benito Santiago, who had three RBI in his
Royals debut.

With one out, Marte came in and Lopez, who had only five major
league home runs in 384 at-bats, made it six in 385.

"I never hit a ball that far in my life," Lopez said.
"Opening day. It's the biggest thing I ever did in my life in
baseball."

Marte seemed to take the loss philosophically.

"I felt good," he said. "I just missed my spots. It happens.
It's never happened to me before on opening day so it's a surprise.
But I have to take it."

Manager Tony Pena first started to send Matt Stairs up to pinch
hit for Lopez. Pena changed his mind when he remembered Lopez had
faced Marte in winter ball.

"I just called him in and said hit a home run," said a
grinning Pena. "And he did it."

The Royals got off to a 9-0 start last year and won 16 of their
first 19 en route to their first winning season in a non-strike
year since 1993. They've spent the offseason basking in renewed
hope among their fans, who now are certain to be even more fired
up.

"We aren't saying this means we're going to start 9-0 again,"
said third baseman Joe Randa, who scored one of the six runs in the
ninth. "But Mendy and Carlos did something magical today. It was a
feeling none of us will ever forget."

Sandy Alomar Jr. and Carlos Lee hit solo homers, and Paul
Konerko keyed a four-run second inning with a two-run double off
Brian Anderson in Ozzie Guillen's debut as the White Sox manager.

"I started pretty good," said Guillen, the first Venezuelan to
manage a major league team. "I don't know if people think I can
manage or not. I'm going to have people second-guessing me from now
on. That team (the Royals), you've got to pitch good every inning
and that didn't happen today."

D.J. Carrasco (1-0) pitched a perfect ninth inning for Kansas
City. Two-time AL MVP Juan Gonzalez singled in his first two
at-bats for the Royals and went 2-for-4.

Mark Buehrle, making his third straight opening-day start, gave
up three runs and eight hits in 6 2-3 innings. Anderson gave up
five runs and seven hits in five innings.

Alomar added an RBI single in the seventh inning. He and Konerko
each had three hits and two RBI.

Game notes
Kauffman Stadium has a new grass field that was installed
over the winter. The outfield fences also were moved back 10 feet.
... In pregame ceremonies, Pena was honored for his AL Manager of
the Year award and SS Berroa for his selection as AL Rookie of the
Year. ... The big crowd roared in the seventh inning when a foul
ball off the bat of Ken Harvey hit Slugger, the Royals' popular
mascot, who was dancing atop the Kansas City dugout. Slugger was
unhurt. ... It was the third-largest regular-season crowd in Kansas
City, including when the Athletics played in Municipal Stadium in
the '50s and '60s.