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Choi marks Marlins debut with career-high 3 RBI

MIAMI (AP) -- In a lineup with seven players who started the
final game of the World Series, Florida Marlins newcomer Hee Seop
Choi made the biggest impact.

Choi drove in three runs to help the defending champions beat
the Montreal Expos 4-3 Tuesday in their season opener. His two-run
homer traveled an estimated 419 feet, his RBI grounder barely 100.

"The season starts, so let's get going," Choi said through an
interpreter. "I'm very happy to help the team win."

Matt Perisho earned the victory by retiring Brian Schneider with
the bases loaded to end the eighth, and Armando Benitez survived a
home run and double in the ninth for the save. Both are new to
Florida's revamped bullpen.

Holdovers also helped the Marlins pick up right where they left
off last October. Josh Beckett allowed one run in seven innings,
and 73-year-old manager Jack McKeon earned his first opening-day
win since 1977, when he was with Oakland.

The Marlins' 2003 title run was a shocker, and few expect them
to repeat. But they started the season with a performance worthy of
the championship flag that went up the center-field pole in the
third inning.

The defending champs drew little national media and no network
TV coverage for their first game, but they did draw a sunsplashed
crowd of 55,315, the largest to see a regular-season game in Miami
and a 49 percent increase over last year's opener. Entertainment
included skydivers, fireworks, plenty of pomp and just enough
offense -- 10 hits -- by the home team.

With the score 2-all, Miguel Cabrera led off the eighth with a
single off Luis Ayala, and he took third on a single by Jeff
Conine. Choi tapped a grounder to second baseman Jose Vidro, whose
only play was to first, allowing Cabrera to score.

"Jack McKeon wanted me to drive in the run, so I didn't try to
hit a home run," Choi said.

Mike Redmond followed with an RBI single.

"One of the characteristics of our team last year was coming
back in late innings and never giving up," Conine said. "We did a
great job of that today."

With two outs in the ninth, Vidro homered off Benitez and Carl
Everett doubled. Orlando Cabrera then ended the game with a foulout
to Choi, and the Expos finished 1-for-10 with runners in scoring
position.

"We didn't get the big hit when we needed it," manager Frank
Robinson said. "But we battled. You can't ask for any more than
that."

The 25-year-old Choi, acquired in the trade that sent Gold Glove
first baseman Derrek Lee to the Chicago Cubs, tied a career high
with his three RBI.

"This is a guy we have a lot of faith in," McKeon said.
"Hopefully this will be a springboard for him."

The performance will be big news in Choi's native South Korea,
even though it was 3 a.m. there when he homered off Livan Hernandez
in the second inning to drive in Mike Lowell, who had doubled.

Hernandez said the home run came on a sinker down the middle and
was his lone mistake in six innings.

"One pitch -- that was the ballgame right there," he said.

Beckett, pitching on 163 days' rest, threw the way he did at the
end of 2003, when his five-hit shutout on three days' rest beat the
New York Yankees in the final game of the World Series. He gave up
four hits and struck out nine.

"I thought I threw well," Beckett said. "I made a few
mistakes on some pitch sequences, but it's a marathon, not a
sprint."

Once Beckett departed, the Expos needed just three batters to
tie the game. Everett doubled off Chad Fox with one out in the
eighth, then scored on Cabrera's single.

There was no escalation of the tension between teams that dates
to spring training 2003 and prompted words this week between the
Expos and Marlins president David Samson. The Expos hit seven
Marlins batters with pitches during the regular season, but no
batter was hit by a pitch Tuesday.

Game notes
McKeon doesn't intend for the opener to be his last as a
manager. "I plan to stay as long as anybody wants me," he said.
McKeon improved to 2-7-1 on opening day. ... OF Brian Banks, who
played for Florida last season, signed a minor league contract
Tuesday with the Marlins. ... Conine started despite a sinus
infection. He played in the team's first game in 1993 and went
4-for-4. ... The Expos lost 13 of 19 to the Marlins last year. ...
The previous attendance record for a Marlins regular-season home
game was 45,900 in the finale of the 1993 season.