The new fences at Citi Field are closer to home plate. That hardly helped the Atlanta Braves.
Johan Santana pitched five innings of two-hit ball in his long-awaited return from shoulder surgery and David Wright hit an RBI single to lead the New York Mets past the punchless Braves 1-0 in their season opener Thursday.
”At least we got this game out of the way,” Dan Uggla said. ”Opening day’s always a lot of fun but there’s always a lot of jitters involved and a lot of butterflies.”
It was the first time since 1996 that Atlanta fielded an opening-day lineup without Chipper Jones, and the Braves squandered several good chances to score. Coming off a near-record collapse last September that cost the team a playoff spot, Atlanta managed only four hits against Santana and four relievers.
”We did a good job in being patient with Santana,” Braves manager Fredi Gonzalez said. ”I think we got him over 80 pitches there, and we just didn’t swing the bats.”
On a sunny, 53-degree afternoon, the Mets honored late catcher Gary Carter in a pregame ceremony and announced a sellout crowd of 42,080 — the largest ever at Citi Field, which opened in 2009. The diminished dimensions barely came into play.
Expected to finish last in a loaded-up NL East, the Mets have slashed $43.4 million off last year’s opening-day payroll — believed to be the largest one-year drop in baseball history. But with Santana back on the mound for the first time in 19 months, it was a day filled with optimism for New York.
”If they feed off of what he did today, the Mets can win ballgames. That lineup’s solid,” Jones said.
Santana struck out five and wriggled out of a fifth-inning jam in his first big league appearance since beating the Braves 4-2 on Sept. 2, 2010. He had surgery 12 days later to repair a torn anterior cruciate capsule in his left shoulder.
”Looks like the same dude to me,” said Uggla, who whiffed his first two times up. ”The only difference I can see is like, he’s not throwing quite as hard. But it didn’t seem to matter.”
On the other side of the field, Atlanta was missing two key pieces. Jones, who plans to retire after this season, is on the disabled list following arthroscopic knee surgery to repair a torn meniscus. Also on the mend is ace Tim Hudson, who had offseason back surgery.
In his absence, Tommy Hanson got the opening-day start and wound up with a hard-luck loss.
”Until that last inning, I felt like I threw the ball well,” Hanson said. ”In that last inning I got a couple of pitches up and that’s the only thing that kind of jumps out at me.”
Andres Torres drew a leadoff walk from Hanson (0-1) in the sixth and scored on Wright’s single. Moments later, Torres took a bad angle on a triple by Tyler Pastornicky, the rookie’s first major league hit, and pulled up while chasing the ball.
Torres hobbled off with a strained left calf that he originally injured March 20. He said he’s headed to the disabled list.
Tim Byrdak, back already from March 13 knee surgery, struck out Jose Constanza and Michael Bourn to escape the jam.
Ramon Ramirez (1-0) got four outs, Jon Rauch worked a 1-2-3 eighth and new Mets closer Frank Francisco pitched a perfect ninth for the save. New York’s relievers retired their final eight batters.
Santana set down 12 in a row after Martin Prado’s first-inning single, striking out the 3-4-5 hitters in succession before Matt Diaz doubled in the fifth. His fastball mostly ranged from 86-89 mph, and his signature changeup looked sharp.
The two-time Cy Young Award winner walked consecutive batters with two outs in the fifth, including Hanson. Santana went to a full count on Bourn with the bases loaded and, with the crowd on its feet, got the speedy leadoff man to hit an inning-ending comebacker.
”I’m happy with the way everything ended up,” Santana said. ”I want to make sure I’ll be able to locate all my pitches and mix them all, and I think today was a good day.”
NOTES: Despite losing their first eight openers, the Mets improved to 33-18 on opening day – the best record in baseball. … Atlanta was 0 for 6 with runners in scoring position. … A longtime Mets nemesis, Jones was booed during pregame introductions even though Howie Rose’s announcement noted the slugger was beginning his final major league season. … Prado started at third base. Jones hopes to be back in time for Atlanta’s home opener April 13 against Milwaukee – maybe sooner. … Pastornicky went 1 for 2 with a walk in his big league debut. … Hudson is slated to throw 40-50 pitches in a rehab outing Saturday for Class-A Rome. He could be back by late April or early May. … Diaz is 17 for 34 (.500) against Santana, the highest batting average among players with at least 30 at-bats against the left-hander.