MLB: Rookie phenom Heyward’s 3-run homer helps Braves beat Cubs 16-5
By CHARLES ODUM
AP Sports Writer
ATLANTA — Jason Heyward hit like The Hammer in his Atlanta Braves debut.
Minutes after catching the ceremonial first pitch from Hank Aaron, Heyward hit a three-run homer in his first major league at-bat to spark the Braves to a 16-5 opening win Monday over Carlos Zambrano and the Chicago Cubs.
Heyward, who had a run-scoring single in the eighth, was 2-for-5 with four RBIs.
Yunel Escobar drove in a career-high five runs as Zambrano gave up eight runs in 1 1-3 innings, matching the shortest of 239 career starts.
With fans in the sellout crowd chanting "Let's go, Heyward," the rookie's first-inning homer into the Braves' bullpen behind the right-field wall gave Atlanta a 6-3 lead.
Marlon Byrd, playing his first game with the Cubs, hit a three-run homer in the first inning and Aramis Ramirez added a two-run drive in the third.
Derek Lowe (1-0) gave up five runs, five hits and three walks in six innings before a sellout crowd of 53,081, a record for a day game in Atlanta and was the fourth-largest overall in Atlanta history.
Brian McCann hit a homer in the second, when the Braves knocked out Zambrano (0-1).
The 20-year-old Heyward became the sixth Braves player to homer in his debut, the fourth to do so in his first plate appearance. Jordan Schafer connected in his initial at-bat last season.
The homer on a 2-0 count came on the first swing of Heyward's major league career. He answered cheers from the fans by tipping his cap at the edge of the dugout.
Heyward won the starting job in right field despite playing only 50 games above Class A in his quick rise through the minor leagues. He was selected baseball's top prospect by Baseball America after hitting .323 with 17 homers and 63 RBIs at three minor league stops in 2009, and was put on the major league roster by the Braves just last Saturday.
Atlanta sent 10 batters to the plate in both the first and seventh innings.
In the first, Chipper Jones drove in Melky Cabrera when his shallow fly ball fell between shortstop Ryan Theriot and Byrd in center for a single. Escobar added a two-run single before Heyward's line-drive homer.
Making his sixth straight opening day start for the Cubs, Zambrano gave up six hits and two walks with one strikeout.
Braves center fielder Nate McLouth made running catches of drives hit by Ramirez in the first and Derrek Lee in the fifth. McLouth was credited with a diving catch of a ball hit by Byrd in the left-center gap in the sixth, though a replay showed the ball popped out of McLouth's glove when he hit the ground.
As umpires called out Byrd, McLouth threw the ball back to Escobar, whose throw to first base forced out Ramirez.
Cubs manager Lou Piniella argued the ruling that McLouth made the catch. The umpires huddled but did not overturn the original call.
Escobar had a three-run double, and pinch-hitter Eric Hinske added a run-scoring triple off Jeff Samardzija in the seventh. Samardzija walked three batters in the six-run inning.
Right-hander Takashi Saito and left-handed closer Billy Wagner pitched perfect innings in their Atlanta debuts to end the game.
NOTES: McCann received his 2009 Silver Slugger award before the game. ... New Cubs owner Tom Ricketts and his brother, Todd, attended the game. ... Sean Marshall had five strikeouts in 2 2-3 perfect innings behind Zambrano. ... Zambrano also lasted only 1 1-3 innings against Pittsburgh on Sept. 4, 2006. ... The other Braves to homer in their first plate appearances were Joe Harrington (1895); Johnny Bates (1906) and Jermaine Dye (1996).