Sanders continues torrid pace for unbeaten Pirates

PHILADELPHIA (AP) -- The Pittsburgh Pirates are playing the
spoiler role early in the season.

Reggie Sanders hit a grand slam for his fourth homer in four
games, and the Pirates ruined Jim Thome's home debut, beating the
Philadelphia Phillies 9-1 Friday before a sellout crowd of 59,269
in the final opener at Veterans Stadium.

Pittsburgh swept a season-opening three-game series against the
Reds, spoiling Cincinnati's debut of Great American Ball Park. The
Pirates' 4-0 start is their best since 1993, when they began their
run of 10 consecutive years without a winning record. They opened
5-1 last season, only to finish with 89 losses.

"We're playing well, but I don't expect to continue at this
pace,'' Pirates manager Lloyd McClendon said.

Thome, whose $85 million, six-year contract was the biggest
signing of the offseason, hit a triple high off the wall in
left-center field on the first pitch he saw from Jeff Suppan. But
the Phillies already trailed 6-0 by the time he came to the plate
in the second.

"It was a lot of excitement,'' Thome said. "Unfortunately, the
outcome wasn't what we wanted.''

Suppan (1-0) allowed one run and three hits in six innings in
his Pirates debut. He was 9-16 with a 5.32 ERA for Kansas City last

Phillies starter Joe Roa (0-1) lasted just two innings, giving
up six runs and six hits. It was Roa's first start against
Pittsburgh since the Pirates traded him to the Phillies for no
compensation last March.

"I set the tone for them,'' Roa said. "I never got into the
game plan that I went out there with.''

Roa retired Kenny Lofton to start the game, but gave up singles
to Jason Kendall and Brian Giles before walking Aramis Ramirez.
Randall Simon's RBI single made it 1-0, and Sanders followed with a
shot that just cleared the wall in left-center, giving the Pirates
a 5-0 lead.

Sanders, playing for his fifth team in five seasons, is hitting
.571 (8-for-14) with 11 RBI. Sanders, who played for the NL
champion San Francisco Giants last season, signed with the Pirates
just six weeks ago.

"I worked hard in the offseason to get myself prepared and it's
just carried over,'' Sanders said. "I'm obviously pleased with the
way everything is going.''

Pat Burrell drove in the Phillies' only run on a RBI groundout
that scored Thome in the second.

Simon was 3-for-4 with two RBI and Pokey Reese added a solo
homer for the Pirates. Salomon Torres pitched three innings for his
first save.

"The early runs helped,'' McClendon said. "It was important to
get the crowd out of it.''

Both teams wore uniforms from the 1970s, with the Pirates clad
in yellow pants and jerseys with black caps. The Phillies had on
uniforms from 1971, their first season at the Vet. The concrete
jungle will be torn down after this season, and the Phillies will
play in a new 43,000-seat, baseball-only stadium in 2004.

Philadelphia, baseball's biggest spender last offseason, opened
with two victories against Florida, justifying the $185 million
management committed in salaries for Thome, Kevin Millwood, David
Bell and others. But the Phillies have lost two straight by a
combined total of 17-4.

"Obviously we wanted a better showing,'' Phillies manager Larry
Bowa said. "Five runs in the first inning is like putting a pin in
the balloon.''

Thome, who hit a club-record 52 homers for Cleveland last year,
got a loud standing ovation during pregame introductions. He got
another ovation when he stepped to the plate for the first time,
and even got a few cheers after he flied out with two runners on in
the third.

Game notes
The Pirates have outscored their opponents 33-11 in four
games. ... Thome homered in his first spring-training at-bat, and
had an RBI double on the first pitch he saw of the regular season.
... Sanders has three career grand slams and 14 homers at the Vet.
... The Phillies are 14-19 in Vet openers. It was the fifth sellout
for a home opener at the Vet -- and the first since 1994, when the
Phillies were coming off a World Series appearance. ... Phillies
reliever Hector Mercado allowed three runs and six hits in five
innings. ... It was the largest crowd at a Vet opener since 60,985
turned out to see the Phillies play the Chicago Cubs in 1993. It
was the largest crowd at the Vet since 59,470 came out to see the
Phillies play the New York Yankees on July 15, 2001.

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