ST. LOUIS (AP)—For most teams, a winning record after the season opener is no big deal. The Milwaukee Brewers are different.
Their 8-6 victory over the St. Louis Cardinals, with President Bush watching from a box above home plate, is the first time the downtrodden franchise has been above .500 in two years. The Brewers haven’t finished with a winning record since 1992.
“Even though it’s one game, it seems like all spring you work seven weeks for this day,” manager Ned Yost said. “We’re kind of glad this day’s over, and we’re really especially glad we started off with a win.”
It was a longer day than usual, necessitated by the president’s visit. The Brewers were introduced on the field about two hours before game time and the Cardinals arrived right after that in their usual pickup-truck procession around the warning track.
The president helped fill the void himself, spending a lot of time working the room in both clubhouses.
“It’s not every day when you get to meet the president,” Milwaukee’s Scott Podsednik said. “That just adds to all the hype of opening day. It was nice meeting up with him.”
Cardinals third baseman Scott Rolen said it was striking that Bush knew who was who and remembered meeting players at various functions.
“He did not ask for any votes,” Rolen said. “But I think he made a great impression on everybody in here.”
Bush wasn’t just glad-handing. He used to own the Texas Rangers, so he knows the game.
“He asked what the vitamins were that I was taking to stay so young,” said 36-year-old Cardinals right fielder Reggie Sanders. “It was amazing. He comes into your path, he will remember you.”
Ben Grieve hit a two-run homer and Podsednik had four RBIs, including a tiebreaking, three-run shot off Matt Morris in the sixth inning for the Brewers, who began last season with six straight losses and never recovered in a 68-94 season.
This year, the second under Yost, they’re aiming for .500 despite a $28 million payroll that’s the lowest in the major leagues.
Bush threw out the ceremonial first pitch, an inside strike, to Cardinals catcher Mike Matheny. Then the president watched the first five innings from a private box as both starters struggled and the Cardinals’ poor defense helped the Brewers.
Morris had a two-run double in the fourth for St. Louis. But he gave up seven runs, five earned, in six innings, and three of the five batters he walked ended up scoring.
“As a guy who has to back off in the middle of July, opening day is intense,” Morris said.
Albert Pujols had a two-run double in the sixth to cut the gap to 7-6. But in his first game as the full-time starter at first base, he committed a throwing error to help the Brewers score two runs without a hit in the third. Gold Glove shortstop Edgar Renteria also bobbled a relay in the third.
Grieve, who slumped to four homers and 17 RBIs last year in an injury-plagued season with the Devil Rays, put the Brewers ahead 4-1 in the third.
“I think Ben’s going to do a great job for us this year, it just takes a little pressure off him to get off to a good start,” Yost said. “I’ve got no doubts in my mind he’s going to play a big part and be real successful for us this year, get his career back on track.”
Sanders added an RBI double in the fourth as the Cardinals tied it against Ben Sheets.
Podsednik’s three-run homer in the sixth put the Brewers ahead for good at 7-4. Grieve added an RBI infield hit in the seventh on a roller that stopped halfway down the third-base line for a two-run cushion.
Dave Burba earned the win with 1 2-3 hitless innings, and Dan Kolb worked the ninth for the save.
Sheets, like Morris making his third straight opening day start, threw 80 pitches in only 3 1-3 innings. He gave up four runs, three earned, on five hits.
“It was pretty similar to last opening day,” said Sheets, who lost in the opener at St. Louis last season. “I was up a lot last year, too. This year we ended up getting the win, so that’s good.”
The security measures that went along with Bush’s appearance mainly inconvenienced a sellout crowd of 49,149, thousands of whom spent more than an hour in long lines outside Busch Stadium before passing through metal detectors. But most appeared to be in their seats by the time the president, wearing a Cardinals warmup jacket, threw out the first pitch to a loud mixtureof cheers and boos.
Commissioner Bud Selig also attended the game. … Morris is the first St. Louis pitcher to start three consecutive openers since Joe Magrane from 1988-90. … The Brewers were 3-13 against the Cardinals last year. They were 18-12 in spring training, their best showing since 1995. … Podsednik, who was 2-for-5, ended the spring in an 0-for-20 slump. … Bush also threw out the ceremonial first pitch before the first game at Milwaukee’s Miller Park in 2001and before Game 3 of the 2001 World Series.