PITTSBURGH — On Wednesday, Charlie Manuel told John Mayberry Jr. he would start in left field on opening day.
"It was awesome," Mayberry said. "It was a great feeling to start my first opening day, and it was great to just kind of spin off of last year, I guess."
Last year, Mayberry delivered the walk-off hit to win the first game. This year, he was just as vital, providing the most important hit and defensive play of Thursday's 1-0 victory over Pittsburgh.
It's not that Mayberry starting was a huge surprise, but Manuel had hinted Wednesday he would start Juan Pierre quite a bit in 2012. Pierre had assumed the top spot in Manuel's lineup for many of the final exhibition games, and that left Mayberry as the odd man out.
Then Manuel inserted Mayberry sixth and plopped Shane Victorino in the leadoff spot for the opener. Mayberry made his manager look smart.
"I like him," Manuel said. "I like him in the big outfield too. It was a lefty. I know Juan has a lifetime batting average over .300 against lefties, but Mayberry's definitely capable of, with one swing, producing a run for you."
It almost happened that way in the seventh inning. With Ty Wigginton on first base, Mayberry doubled into the rightfield corner. It was the only extra-base hit of the entire game for both teams. Wigginton held at third and scored a batter later on Carlos Ruiz's sacrifice fly.
Two innings earlier, Mayberry made a catch against the wall on a Clint Barmes deep fly. He also made a running catch in the fourth inning. When asked which was more difficult, Mayberry smirked. "They were equally tough," he said.
"That was big," Manuel said. "He's one of our best fielders."
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