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CHC@STL: LaHair breaks open the game with grand slam

ST. LOUIS -- On Saturday, the Cubs will be on the field for the Cardinals' ring ceremony to pay their respects to the defending World Series champions. But on Friday, they crashed the party.

Bryan LaHair belted his first career grand slam and Ian Stewart hit his first homer in more than a year to power the Cubs to a 9-5 victory over the Cardinals in their home opener.

Whether it was the rain or the Cubs' offense, it wasn't much fun for the Cardinals, who celebrated the 2011 World Series championship with an extended pregame ceremony. They raised a banner in left field, paraded Hall of Famers Stan Musial, Lou Brock, Bob Gibson and Ozzie Smith, among others, and presented their four championship trophies on the field.

"I think the rain did that mostly," Jeff Samardzija said about being the spoiler. "I didn't have too much to do with it."

The hoopla seemed to motivate the Cubs. After the one-hour, 44-minute rain delay and the festivities, leadoff batter David DeJesus quieted the sellout crowd of 46,882 with a double off Adam Wainwright (0-2). Darwin Barney singled and Starlin Castro followed with an RBI single. One out later, Stewart launched his first home run with the Cubs.

For Stewart, who struggled with injuries last season, it was his first big league blast in 170 at-bats since Aug. 23, 2010. It's about time.

"I joke about that a lot," Stewart said. "It's one of the first things I said. I almost haven't hit a home run in two seasons. It was nice to finally get that one."

The Cardinals entered the series leading the National League in hitting and had outhomered the Cubs, 12-3, in their first seven games of the season. But with one out in the third, Chicago loaded the bases on two walks and a single, and LaHair cleared them with an opposite-field home run. It was the Cubs' first grand slam since Aramis Ramirez hit one Oct. 2, 2010, in Houston. LaHair was a little surprised at himself.

"Usually I don't do well in that situation -- I get a single or something," said LaHair, whose last slam was May 5, 2010, while playing for Triple-A Iowa. "I've never had too much success in that situation. I got a good pitch and hit it hard. That's all I try to do."

Samardzija (2-0) picked up the win, giving up four hits over four scoreless innings. The Cardinals then batted around in the fifth, including a two-run triple by Matt Carpenter. What happened in the fifth?

"I think I got a little complacent with how I went the first four innings, and I was looking to have another quick inning," Samardzija said.

And when his pitches are up in the zone, batters connect on line drives, instead of hitting ground balls.

"I need to concentrate a little bit more there and lock in and keep that ball down in the zone and keep the ball on the ground like they'd been doing the whole game," Samardzija said.

St. Louis' Carlos Beltran noticed.

"I believe that when he got the big lead, he got comfortable and confident out there and started throwing the ball right down the middle," Beltran said. "That's when we started putting ourselves on the basepaths and scored a few runs."

It's part of the growing pains Samardzija and the Cubs will have to go through this season.

"It's uncharted waters," manager Dale Sveum said of the right-hander, who topped 100 pitches over 8 2/3 innings in his first start Sunday against the Nationals. "I think we have to be careful, and I have to be careful, too, of using those kind of things as excuses. He's pitched enough in the big leagues to understand all this."

In his first start, Samardzija had thrown first-pitch strikes to all but five of the 31 batters he faced. The ratio wasn't as good this time.

"I don't know if you'll ever top what he did the other day on a daily basis," Sveum said. "Going into this, especially against a really good offensive team, you knew he'd have to be really good."

The Cubs' bullpen picked him up with four scoreless innings.

"I remember a few days ago and everybody was talking about the bullpen," Samardzija said. "It's nice as a pitcher when your offense gives you nine [runs] and your bullpen gives you four [innings]. I was in the right place at the right time today for sure."

When the Cardinals receive their championship rings Saturday, Cubs coach Dave McKay, who was on the St. Louis staff last season, will be included. He'll be the one in blue. Sveum told his players he wants them on the field for the festivities.

"I think it's a special day to show your respect for the world champions," Sveum said.

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