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Walker grand slam leads Bucs over Cubs in opener

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Neil Walker hit a grand slam, Andrew McCutchen also homered and Kevin Correia pitched into the seventh inning Friday as the Pittsburgh Pirates started the season under new manager Clint Hurdle with a 6-3 victory over the Chicago Cubs.

Before the first game of the 2011 season, Neil Walker watched Robert Redford throw out a ceremonial first pitch at Wrigley Field. While Walker didn't short-circuit any lights with his shot, the Bucs second baseman channeled Roy Hobbs by belting a grand slam nearly onto Sheffield Avenue Friday afternoon. Andrew McCutchen added a two-run round-tripper and free agent acquisition Kevin Correia threw six strong innings, propelling the Pirates to a 6-3 Opening Day victory over the Cubs in front of a rain-soaked sell-out crowd of 41,358 at Wrigley.
 
Chicago led 2-0 when Walker stepped to the plate to face Ryan Dempster with two outs and the bags full in the fifth inning. Walker worked a full count against Dempster, who had already allowed a Ryan Doumit single and walks to Ronny Cedeno and Jose Tabata in the frame. With the runners going, Dempster threw an upper-80s splitter that caught the middle of the plate, but he caught a break when Walker fouled it off.
 
Dempster wasn't so fortunate on the next pitch -- Walker took a fastball down the middle and deposited it deep into the right field bleachers to give the Pirates a 4-2 lead.
 
The Bucs' second baseman served as an offensive catalyst again in the top of the seventh, doubling to right-center on a Dempster changeup with two outs. McCutchen then scorched the second pitch that he saw, a middle-away fastball, into the first row of the left field stands.
 
Kevin Correia, making his first start in a Pittsburgh uniform after signing a two-year deal this past winter, allowed three runs (two earned) in six-plus innings pitched. The right-hander struck out three and walked just one batter, throwing 61 of his 92 pitches (66 percent) for strikes.
 
The Cubs got a run in the bottom of the first after a Pedro Alvarez throwing error on a Marlon Byrd ground ball allowed Starlin Castro to come around from first base. The North Siders then loaded the bases against Correia with one out in the third. But he avoided major damage, getting Carlos Pena to pull a changeup to the right side of the infield for a force out at second base (Castro scored on the play).
 
Correia went to his breaking stuff against Geovany Soto, getting behind 3-0. But, rather than going back to his fastball, he snapped off a slider that caught the outside corner for a called strike. Correia threw another slider in the same spot on the next pitch, inducing a force out at second base to end the inning.
 
Correia exited in the bottom of the seventh, after he and the Bucs' infield became spectators on a Darwin Barney pop up that fell for a hit. Chicago pulled within three runs later in the inning when Kosuke Fukudome lined a Garrett Olson fastball to left field, but that was as close as they would get.
 
Evan Meek mowed down the Cubs while striking out two in the eighth inning. But Chicago briefly threatened in the bottom of the ninth. Fukudome walked against Pirates closer Joel Hanrahan. Castro reached on an infield single, as shortstop Ronny Cedeno got his body in front of a grounder hit up the middle but didn't have a play at second.
 
Hanrahan responded by rearing back and firing -- Marlon Byrd swung through a pair of 98 MPH fastballs, then took a 97 MPH heater on the outside corner for strike three.
 
The Bucs' stopper stuck with the fastball against Aramis Ramirez, getting a called strike with a 98 MPH bullet and then missing wide at 99 MPH. Ramirez pulled the trigger on a low 98 MPH offering and hit a ground ball up the middle. While Cedeno had a hard time getting a grip on the ball at first, he flipped to Walker at second base to give the Pirates an Opening Day win.
 
While Correia was sharp, Dempster struggled with his control, allowing six earned runs in 6.2 innings pitched. He punched out seven Pirates, but the righty issued four free passes. Dempster often got ahead in the count, throwing first pitch strikes to 20 of 30 hitters he faced, but he couldn't finish them off.
 
By wearing out Dempster and beating the Cubs, Pittsburgh won its fifth consecutive Opening Day game. The last time the Bucs won that many in a row, FDR was in office -- the 1935-1940 Pirates opened the season with a win six straight years.

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