Braves held punchless by Mets in opener

BY foxsports • April 5, 2012

NEW YORK (AP) -- 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.

"I thought offensively 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.


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