MIAMI (AP) _ Chicago Cubs hitter Mark Grace stood at the plate in the first inning of the season's first game, astonished by what he had just seen: a wild throw from Florida Marlins catcher Charles Johnson.

``I never thought I'd see the day you'd make an error,'' Grace told Johnson.

The misplay on an attempted steal Tuesday ended Johnson's streak of 172 consecutive errorless games, a major-league record for a catcher.

``It was a blessing for me to go that far without making an error,'' Johnson said. ``I have no idea how I did it.''

So it turns out that Johnson, a Gold Glove catcher in each of his first three seasons, is not perfect behind the plate. But he hopes to be a better batter this season, and offensively he's off to a good start. His three-run homer sparked an 11-6 victory Tuesday over the Cubs.

The 26-year-old Johnson has a .241 average in three major-league seasons, but his productivity improved last year, when he hit 19 home runs with 63 RBIs, both career highs, and made the All-Star team for the first time.

With three rookies in the opening-day lineup, World Series champion Florida could use a more potent bat from Johnson to help compensate for the departure of Moises Alou, Devon White, Jeff Conine and Darren Daulton.

But the Marlins _ and Johnson _ regard his offensive contributions as a bonus.

``It's kind of hard to make up for what Moises Alou did last year,'' Johnson said. ``That's too much pressure on me to fill those holes in the lineup. I can only do what C.J. can do.''

It was primarily because of his defense that Johnson won a $3.3 million contract this winter in arbitration _ an 11-fold increase over his 1997 salary of $290,000. Still, some consider him a potential 30-homer hitter.

``I've always been a catcher first and then a hitter,'' he said. ``Whatever I can do offensively is going to be a plus. But I want to improve off last year.''

Defensively, the Marlins will happily accept even an occasional error from Johnson. His throwing arm and handling of pitchers might be unsurpassed, and his glovework is almost flawless.

In 123 games last season, Johnson committed just one passed ball and no errors. That's why Grace was so surprised when Johnson made an error on opening day when he threw high to second base on a steal attempt by the Mickey Morandini.

It was Johnson's first error since June 23, 1996.

``There's no way in the world I can play my entire career without making an error,'' he said with a chuckle. ``You just try not to have too many.''