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Resilient Brewers claim opener in 10th

Resilient Brewers claim opener

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CHICAGO -- The drama of the Brewers-Cubs rivalry didn't end with last year's pennant race.

The Brewers took the first of 16 matchups between the National League Central rivals at Wrigley Field on Monday, but it certainly was not a knockout. A duel between starting pitchers became a nightmare for new closers, and by the time it was over, someone had made the most of his first start on Opening Day.

No, that someone was not Cubs outfielder Kosuke Fukudome, though the Japanese import tormented the Brewers with three hits, including a tying three-run home run in the bottom of the ninth inning. It was Brewers outfielder Tony Gwynn Jr., the son of the Hall of Famer, who collected two hits, executed a two-strike bunt in the ninth that led to the Brewers' first go-ahead tally, then lifted a sacrifice fly in the 10th that gave the team a thrilling 4-3 win.

"It's early, but a game against the Cubbies like that, it seems perfect," said Gwynn, who looks to get the majority of center-field starts for the Brewers while Mike Cameron serves a 25-game suspension.

It was one game of 162. But it was a big one.

"All the games in September are magnified, and those are the games that people pay attention to, but a win now is no different from a win then," said left fielder Ryan Braun, who also was playing his first big league Opening Day. "It's huge to come back. Last year, we would have lost a game like this."

The conditions were as tough as the starting pitchers on Monday, with a 41-minute rain delay at the start of the game and then a 49-minute pause in the bottom of the third inning.

Both starters -- Ben Sheets for the Brewers and Carlos Zambrano for the Cubs -- returned after the second delay and looked none the worse for it. Sheets struck out the first three hitters he faced after the delay and didn't allow another hit until Fukudome singled with one out in the seventh and prompted Brewers manager Ned Yost to make the first call to his rebuilt bullpen.

Zambrano was just as sharp, at least until he exited with an arm injury in the top of the seventh. Zambrano wheeled and picked off Brewers third baseman Bill Hall at second base, but clutched his hand afterward and left with cramps in his forearm.

Both teams were solid in middle relief and remained scoreless into the ninth. That's when new Cubs closer Kerry Wood plunked Rickie Weeks with his first pitch. Gwynn fell into a two-strike count but then executed his bunt, and, following an intentional walk to Prince Fielder, Braun lined a single to left field for a 1-0 Brewers lead.

"You mess up the first two," Gwynn said of his bunt attempts, "you're supposed to get the third one down. He gave me a pitch I could handle."

Corey Hart got a pitch he could handle two batters later and hit a two-run double. That hit handed new Brewers closer Eric Gagne a 3-0 lead for the bottom of the ninth.

Game over? Not this time.

Gagne surrendered a Derrek Lee single and walked Aramis Ramirez to bring up Fukudome, who already had two hits and a walk in his first Major League game. Fukudome got ahead, 3-0, looked at a fastball for strike one and then pounced on a nearly identical pitch, sending a three-run home run to the center-field seats to tie the game at 3.

"It's funny," Yost said. "[The] starters came out and pitched great, and both stoppers struggled."

Before Monday, Gagne had never squandered a three-run lead in his career. He left Wrigley Field without speaking to reporters.

"I'm sure he's disappointed, but he's a veteran," Fielder said. "He's an awesome player, and he was able to come back and at least hold them to those three runs."

Gagne struggled warming up because the bullpen mound was muddy, so bullpen coach Billy Castro called for the grounds crew. Once in the game, Gagne was swatting at his face throughout the inning, an effort, Castro said, to keep his goggles from fogging up.

"He just had a bad day," Castro said. "That can happen to anybody, it just happened to him on Opening Day. He's been through that stuff before. His velocity is pretty good, so he'll be fine."

Gagne held it at 3-3, and the Brewers rallied in the 10th against Bob Howry (0-1). Pinch-hitter Craig Counsell's revamped batting stance paid off with a leadoff double. No. 9 hitter Jason Kendall bunted the runner to third, and, after Weeks was hit again by a pitch, Gwynn delivered a go-ahead sacrifice fly to center field. Yost said he considered ordering a squeeze bunt but decided against it.

For good measure, Gwynn made a sliding catch to end the game.

"It's great because he was excited about starting today," Counsell said. "It's a thrill for a young player, their first Opening Day start. To have the impact he had on the game today, to come up big ... that's something he'll remember forever."

Yost used David Riske -- not Derrick Turnbow -- in the bottom of the 10th, and Riske converted his 21st career save. Yost said he would have used Riske for two innings, then turned to Turnbow had the game progressed that far.

It didn't.

"Every time we play [the Cubs] it's like that," Fielder said. "You always hope that it will be easy once you get ahead, but whenever we play these guys, they always seem to find a way to come back. I'm just glad we pulled it out in the 10th."

Said Counsell: "It's just a big game to win. That's a disappointing game when you lose it. It's just one game, but it's sure a great way to begin the season."

Adam McCalvy is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

{"content":["opening_day" ] }
{"content":["opening_day" ] }
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