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Heyward's 3-run homer helps Braves beat Cubs

Photo by Rich Addicks

Photo by Rich Addicks

ATLANTA -- His face and head covered in shaving cream and his first home run ball stashed safely away, Jason Heyward stood in front of his locker and beamed.

''I had a blast,'' he said.

He stole the show on opening day.

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 also had a run-scoring single in the eighth, was 2-for-5 with four RBIs.

''It was the first of many career highlights for him,'' said Atlanta's Chipper Jones. ''That was impressive, that was very impressive.''

Braves fans in the sellout crowd eagerly embraced Heyward, from Henry County, about 30 minutes south of Atlanta.

Fans chanted ''Let's go, Heyward!'' as he confidently took two pitches in his first-inning at-bat, then sent a fastball from Zambrano into the Braves' bullpen behind the right-field wall on his first swing, sending the crowd over the top.

''I don't know that I've ever heard this stadium that loud,'' Jones said.

Added Heyward when asked how he felt as he ran around the bases: ''I felt my legs but I couldn't hear myself think, it was so loud.''

After the game, Braves reliever Peter Moylan crept behind a crowd of reporters and hit the rookie with a towel full of shaving cream.

''I guess shaving cream is a good thing,'' Heyward said with a smile.

Yunel Escobar drove in a career-high five runs as Zambrano gave up eight runs in 11/3 innings, matching the shortest of 239 career starts.

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), but opening day belonged to Heyward.

''He's good,'' Zambrano said. ''Anybody can be good with two balls and no strikes, but you have to give him credit.''

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 also did it last season.

Heyward answered cheers from the fans by tipping his cap at the edge of the dugout.

Heyward (6-foot-5, 240) 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.

''Jason had a spectacular day, really,'' said Braves manager Bobby Cox. ''He'll have his struggles, probably, like any other 20-year-old in the big leagues, but he's a very talented kid. And when he's not hitting, he's going to help us in the outfield. He's a very gifted athlete.''

Atlanta sent 10 batters to the plate in both the first and seventh innings.

''It was something of an embarrassing loss,'' said Cubs manager Lou Piniella. ''Never did I anticipate we'd give up 16 runs on opening day, not in my wildest dreams.''

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.

''I left some pitches over the middle,'' Zambrano said. ''When you do that at this level, you're going to get crushed.''