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.”
“This is a guy we have a lot of faith in,” McKeon said. “Hopefully this will be a springboard for him.”
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 duringthe regular season, but no batter was hit by a pitch Tuesday.
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 thefinale of the 1993 season.