Wells often was overpowering in working out of two big jams and outdueling Kevin Millwood, and the Pirates rode Craig Wilson's homer and Tike Redman's tie-breaking double to a 2-1 victory Monday over the Philadelphia Phillies.
Wells provided the strong start and castoff Phillies closer Jose Mesa the big finish, pitching the ninth for the save against his former club. The Phillies dumped Mesa and his 6.28 ERA after last season to trade for former Astros closer Billy Wagner, who never got in the game.
Redman, trying to show his .330 average over the final third of the Pirates' 2003 season wasn't an aberration, broke a scoreless tie with a double following Jack Wilson's leadoff single in the fifth.
Craig Wilson, who probably wouldn't have started if rookie left fielder Jason Bay wasn't on the disabled list and Raul Mondesi hadn't shift from right to left, made it 2-0 by homering on a 3-2 pitch into the center-field seats in the sixth. The pitch before, Wilson lined a Millwood fastball foul by only a few feet into the left-field stands.
Wells, whose 2.12 home ERA last season was the NL's best, and Millwood proved once again that spring training doesn't matter once the teams head home, the weather cools down and the games start to counts.
Neither pitcher won a spring start on teams that lost a combined 41 games; the Phillies' 21 losses were the most of any team, and the Pirates' 20 were their most since 1985.
But both pitchers were sharp from the start, though Wells often went deep in the count as he often does. With no scoring in the game's front half, the sellout crowd of 35,702 -- many wearing Steelers garb on a sunny but 44-degree day -- acted almost as if it were a football game, with the loudest cheers going to defensive plays and Wells' strikeouts.
Wells said beforehand he wanted to set the tone for the Pirates' season by giving them a strong start in his first opening day assignment, and he did that.
The Phillies looked like they might break through in the fifth, when Marlon Byrd walked with one out and moved up on Placido Polanco's grounder. That brought up Jim Thome, who drove in 131 runs last season, and the fans began stirring restlessly. But Thome popped out harmlessly to second baseman Bobby Hill, who backpedaled quickly into right field to make the catch.
Wells faced an even bigger jam in the sixth when Pat Burrell and Bobby Abreu singled. But Wells toughened up to strike out Mike Lieberthal, Jimmy Rollins and David Bell in succession, with Bell going down looking on a 2-2 pitch.
As Wells walked off the mound, he allowed himself a barely perceptible fist pump.
That was the final pitch for Wells, who was lifted after throwing 105 pitches -- 64 strikes -- while allowing five hits, walking three and striking out seven. He remained on the bench after coming out, watching intently as Mesa got the side in order in the ninth.
Millwood, who beat the Marlins in the Phillies' opener last season, also was pulled after six, allowing seven hits and two runs.
If Pirates manager Lloyd McClendon was hesitant to turn the 2-0 lead over to what was the NL's worst bullpen last season he didn't show it, with Salomon Torres striking out Thome with a runner on first to end the seventh
The Phillies finally scored in the eighth on Rollins' sacrifice fly, but only after a Pirates defensive lapse. After Burrell singled for his third hit and Abreu walked, Chris Stynes failed to cover third on Lieberthal's sacrifice bunt, and Torres had to settle for the out at first. Torres stranded Abreu at second by getting Bell to ground out for the third out.
Until Redman's RBI double, perhaps the biggest cheer was for former Pirates manager Chuck Tanner's right-down-the-middle ceremonial first pitch. The Pirates plan a season-long commemoration of Tanner's 1979 World Series championship team, the last in the club's 118-season history.
They certainly haven't had much to celebrate since moving into PNC Park in 2001, going 209-276 while never finishing higher than fourth in the NL Central -- perhaps a forewarning to the Phillies that opening a new park doesn't instantly guarantee success. The Phillies play three games in Pittsburgh and three in Florida this weekend before officially opening Citizens Bank Park on Monday against the Reds.
The Pirates announced contract extensions for manager Lloyd McClendon (through 2005, with a club option for 2006) and general manager Dave Littlefield (through 2007) several hours before the opening pitch. ... Burrell, trying to bounce back from an off-season in which his RBI dropped from 116 to 64, had three hits. ... Craig Wilson is 3-for-6 against Millwood with a double, triple and homer. ... The Pirates had lost nine of their previous 10 home openers, winning only in 2002.