After the offseason, the Rockies sapped back into the mode they used to win 21-of-22 games to make it to the World Series, where the magic disappeared and they were swept by the Red Sox.
Spot starter Kip Wells faced his 2007 club and gave up one run on four hits in 5 1/3 innings, benefiting from two important defensive plays. The bullpen was clutch. The offense left 11 on base, but two unearned runs in the eighth made up for that.
"Pitching and defense has predicated what we are and how we do things," Rockies manager Clint Hurdle said. "So keep it close, one-run ballgames, that's become more the norm than the blowouts."
Shortstop Troy Tulowitzki made a diving stop in the first inning, started a double play that kept Wells from early trouble, and finished with three hits, including a double. He singled off Ryan Franklin (0-1) to open the eighth, and Todd Helton followed with a ground-rule double.
Matt Holliday, who entered with a .483 average at Busch, knocked a grounder to third baseman Troy Glaus. Although he wasn't instructed to do so, Tulowitzki dashed home and Glaus threw wildly. The fielder's choice left Holliday 0-for-4, but the Rockies had tied the game. Franklin then walked Garrett Atkins.
Flores replaced him and set down Hawpe and Torrealba. The Cardinals thought a 2-1 pitch was a strike, but Nix didn't, and home-plate umpire Randy Marsh agreed. Then Nix took his walk and Helton scored.
Nix, 25, the team's top pick in 2001 (44th overall), won a competition to replace 2007 second baseman Kazuo Matsui, who signed with the Astros.
"I'm sure [Nix] was very anxious to swing the bat right there," Helton said. "That's a tough spot to be in. He did a great job. I'm very proud of him."
Wells received barely a goodbye and no offer from the Cards after leading the NL with 17 losses, but signed a $3.1 million, one-year deal with the Rockies. He didn't make the rotation, to his chagrin, but Monday's rainout opened a chance to start. The only run off him was Yadier Molina's leadoff homer in the fifth, which nearly made a winner of Cards starter Kyle Lohse (five innings, three hits).
"Obviously, my expectations were to go out there and pitch well, so it wasn't a surprise," Wells said. "But on the same token, I was coming back here, and it was technically the first game. You want to give the team a chance to win."
Cards manager Tony La Russa said the change of scenery did Wells good.
"He's got plenty of talent," La Russa said. "He just got off on the wrong foot here, and it just kept building. But you can't question his talent. And when he puts it together like that, he's tough to hit against."
Wells also had help.
Wells walked first-inning leadoff man Skip Schumaker but was bailed out when Tulowitzki dove after Chris Duncan's hard one-hop grounder and flipped to Nix to start a double play. Duncan led off he fourth with a single but Wells struck out Albert Pujols and catcher Torrealba, who struggled through shoulder pain last year, threw Duncan out trying to steal.
After Duncan walked and Pujols singled with one down in the seventh, offseason pickup Micah Bowie, who pitched for the Nationals in starting and relief roles last year, worked Rick Ankiel into a double-play grounder. Taylor Buchholz (1-0) gave up singles to Adam Kennedy and pinch-hitter Brian Barton with two down in the eighth, but threw curveball after curveball until he fanned Cesar Izturis.
Brian Fuentes and Manny Corpas were perfect in the final two innings. Since taking over for Fuentes as closer in the middle of last season, Corpas has converted 26-of-28 save chances, including 6-of-7 last postseason.