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COL@PIT: Alvarez makes a strong throw to second

PITTSBURGH -- The setting had the makings for a special afternoon at PNC Park.

Much of Pittsburgh was abuzz about the club's 4-2 start, and especially encouraged by the strong showing from the team's starting staff. Excitement about the arrival of manager Clint Hurdle and a core group of young position players had been building for months.

It all prompted a near-record crowd of 39,219 to come through the gates, a record surpassed only once in PNC Park's 10-year history. Even the sun -- something seen scarcely in Pittsburgh in recent days -- made a lengthy appearance for Thursday's home opener.

Yet a day set up so nicely proceeded to be entirely flat. None of that momentum built from two winning road series or from a stirring pregame ceremony carried over once Paul Maholm threw the first pitch of the afternoon.

It all ended in a somewhat deflating 7-1 loss to the Rockies.

"You feel like you owe it to all the fans to win on the first day," Andrew McCutchen said.

Added Maholm: "Unfortunately, today wasn't a good all-around day for anybody."

One game isn't going to extinguish all hope there might be for the season. But this certainly was not the way the Pirates intended to greet their hometown fans. Rockies starter Esmil Rogers had a lot to do with that.

The 25-year-old right-hander -- who, just two months ago, wasn't even ensured of a job at the big league level -- made the best start of his career on Thursday. His 7 1/3 innings and seven strikeouts were career highs, and he enjoyed a stretch in which he retired 22 of 23 hitters. A one-out walk to Garrett Jones in the second was Rogers' only blemish during that span.

As Rogers methodically took care of business, the sellout crowd rapidly became a non-factor.

"I wasn't trying to quiet everybody," Rogers said. "I was just trying to do my job."

It didn't necessarily appear early on that the Pirates would have trouble scoring, as consecutive singles by Jose Tabata and Neil Walker in the opening frame set the Pirates up to score one run. However, that ended up being the offense's last bit of life until the eighth inning.

Rogers threw every pitch in his repertoire, including the changeup he developed over the winter. Of the 13 changeups Rogers threw, 11 were strikes. The effectiveness of that pitch, coupled with his solid fastball-curveball-slider mix, had the Pirates perpetually behind in the count.

"He was aggressive," said manager Clint Hurdle, who remembered Rogers well from his days in Colorado. "I expected more from our offense. We're always going to expect more from our offense. Rogers showed up and pitched well."

An uninspiring offensive performance wasn't Thursday's only momentum-killer. A first-inning throwing error by Walker led to two unearned Rockies runs before the Pirates even got their first crack at Rogers.

With one on and a runner at first, Walker fielded a grounder and, in an attempt to get a forceout at second, bounced his throw in front of shortstop Ronny Cedeno. The ball trickled into left field. One run scored and Carlos Gonzalez, who had hit the grounder, ended up at third.

"I feel like I singlehandedly took the air out of the entire building in the first inning," Walker said. "I made Paul's job a whole lot harder for him."

Any explanation for the errant throw?

"I just blew it," Walker said. "Just a terrible play. Just bad."

Gonzalez scored on a subsequent sacrifice fly by Troy Tulowitzki.

Tulowitzki turned out to be a thorn in Maholm's side all afternoon. He padded Colorado's lead with a solo home run -- his third blast in as many days -- in the fourth. Tulowitzki then capped the Rockies' two-run sixth with an RBI double.

With the two hits, Tulowitzki is now 10-for-18 in his career again Maholm.

"He's got my number," said Maholm, who was making his first home opener start. "I think if I make my pitches, then it's a different story."

Until he began elevating some pitches in the sixth, Maholm didn't pitch all that poorly. That fourth-inning home run was one of just three hits Maholm gave up in a 16-batter span following Walker's error. He had entered the start on the heels of 6 2/3 shutout innings in his season debut at Wrigley Field last weekend.

Colorado tacked on a pair of runs off reliever Chris Resop, which prompted a number of people in attendance to head for the gates early. The loss snapped a modest streak of two straight home opener victories in Pittsburgh.

"Obviously, they've played good baseball," Tulowitzki said of the Pirates. "Today they made a few mistakes and we took advantage of it. But I know Hurdle. He's a good manager. He'll do a good job over there."

Eighty home games remain in 2011, and the Pirates will win plenty of them. But the mood in the clubhouse afterward suggested that this one stung a tad bit more because of the occasion.

"It's over. It's done. We're looking toward tomorrow," Walker said. "The thing that makes it tough is it's Opening Day."

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