(civic pride on display at PNC yesterday afternoon)
Opening Day, a time for hope and excitement, also had its share of controversy Monday.
Pirates manager Lloyd McClendon created it when he elected not to start first baseman Craig Wilson, the team’s leading home run hitter in 2004.
Because of Wilson’s past struggles against Milwaukee Brewers starter Ben Sheets — he is 0 for 13 with seven strikeouts lifetime — left-handed hitter Daryle Ward got the start at first base.
Ward went 0 for 3 with two strikeouts. Wilson was inserted as a pinch-hitter against left-hander Tommy Phelps in the eighth inning and grounded into a fielder’s choice. It was his only at-bat.
Apparently upset with McClendon’s decision, Wilson brushed past reporters before the game and declined to be interviewed.
Wilson hit 29 homers last year and shared the team lead with 82 RBI. He also led the Pirates with eight homers during spring training.
The game marked the fourth consecutive time McClendon did not start Wilson against Sheets. The Brewers ace faced the Pirates five times last year, and Wilson started only the first two of those games, going 0 for 5 with two strikeouts.
“The fact is, if it wasn’t Opening Day, nobody would say a thing about it,” McClendon said. “What’s the big deal?”
Ward entered the game with six hits in 29 at-bats against Sheets, including one homer. Also on the bench was Rob Mackowiak, who was 10 for 35 with one homer against Sheets.
“I think this is blown out of proportion,” McClendon said. “It’s Opening Day, and there’s a lot of excitement, but the fact is, I’m trying to put a lineup out there that gives me the best opportunity to win a game.”