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Cirillo, Hardy, Clark combine for 6 RBI

PITTSBURGH (AP) -- Ned Yost might not make a more surprising move
all season than writing Jeff Cirillo's name on his Opening-Day
lineup card. The Milwaukee manager might not make a better one,
either.

Cirillo homered and doubled in his return to the Brewers, and
Ben Sheets outpitched Oliver Perez in a matchup of two of the NL's
best young starters Monday during Milwaukee's 9-2 rout of the
Pittsburgh Pirates.

Sheets was given little support during a 2004 season that was
much better than his 12-14 record indicated -- the Brewers scored
one run or fewer in nine of his losses. But he got plenty of help
in his fourth consecutive Opening Day start from Milwaukee's newest
regular, shortstop J.J. Hardy, and the oldest, Cirillo.

The 35-year-old Cirillo, one of the most popular players in team
history while hitting .307 for Milwaukee from 1994-99, was released
by San Diego after 33 games last year and was out of baseball the
rest of the season. He later signed a minor league contract with
Milwaukee and wasn't certain of a spot on the 25-man roster until
late in camp.

Wes Helms and Russell Branyan were expected to platoon at third,
but Yost unexpectedly started Cirillo and was rewarded with a
run-scoring double in the second and a solo homer in the fourth.

"If you had told me Feb. 11 that I would be in this position
today, starting for the Brewers, I would have told you you were
crazy," Cirillo said. "This game's been taken from me once. I
didn't think I was going to have a job."

Much less on opening day.

"He deserved to be out there," Yost said. "He does things to
help you win. I'm not saying Wes doesn't ... but against a guy like
Oliver Perez, we felt Jeff would be a better fit."

Cirillo also made an excellent grab of Jason Bay's line drive
that appeared headed for the left-field corner in the fifth,
stranding two runners and leaving the Pirates down 4-2.

"That was big," Sheets said. "I left a breaking ball up and
I'm lucky he hit a line drive instead of a bomb."

Hardy, known more for his defense than his offense in the
minors, added a two-run single for his first career hit in a
five-run Brewers sixth. He is the first Milwaukee player since Paul
Molitor in 1977 to make his major league debut on Opening Day.

"That hit bought Ben Sheets two more innings because if he
doesn't drive in anybody there, we're going to have to pinch-hit,"
Yost said. "That was a huge hit."

Even as each of their teams endured a 12th consecutive losing
season last year, Sheets and Perez had a combined 503 strikeouts
and a 2.83 ERA. But what looked to be an exceptional pitching
matchup was a mismatch.

Perez, who had a 2.98 ERA and 239 strikeouts in his first full
major league season, allowed six runs and five hits, walked three
and hit a batter in five-plus ineffective innings. He also threw a
run-scoring wild pitch.

"I don't have any excuses," said Perez, who missed part of
spring training with shoulder stiffness. "We've got 161 games
left, and we just have to forget this day."

Perez was lifted during the sixth, which included Hardy's single
and Brady Clark's two-run single, both off reliever Rick White.
Shortstop Jack Wilson's throwing error also scored a run.

So much for PNC Park being the Brewers' toughest venue. They
were 11-26 there the last four seasons and 2-6 last year, when
Sheets was 1-3 against Pittsburgh.

Despite a near-perfect day -- sunny skies and a high of 60
degrees, one day after a spring storm dumped snow on PNC Park -- the
crowd of 38,016 didn't have much to cheer during Sheets' effective,
if not overpowering, start.

Sheets, previously 4-7 against the Pirates, allowed eight mostly
harmless hits and two runs over seven innings, striking out six and
walking none. Matt Lawton went 3-for-4 in his Pirates debut and
Benito Santiago tripled in his first Pittsburgh at-bat, but the
rest of the lineup did little.

"They had a guy named Sheets out there," Pirates manager Lloyd
McClendon said. "He holds a lot of teams down."

Game notes
It was the first NL contest of the year. The Mets-Reds game
in Cincinnati started a half-hour later. ... White wanted to wear
jersey No. 00, as he did last season in Cleveland, but he got No.
88, just as in spring training. The Pirates have never had a No. 00
in their history. ... The sellout crowd was the Pirates' largest on
opening day in PNC Park's five-year history. ... Sheets is 3-0 with
one no-decision during his four Opening Day starts. ... CF Tike
Redman and SS Jack Wilson were the only Pirates who were also in
last year's Opening Day lineup.