NEW YORK – The first day of the Braves’ 2012 season looked quite similar to the final days of the 2011 season, only with better pitching.
Tommy Hanson and the bullpen limited the New York Mets to one run and seven hits, but the Braves mustered just four hits of their own in a 1-0 loss at Citi Field against the team that’s a consensus pick to finish last in the National League East.
They didn’t have many scoring chances against Johan Santana and the Mets bullpen, and the Braves squandered the few they had, failing to score after Matt Diaz’s one-out double in the fifth inning and Tyler Pastornicky’s one-out triple in the seventh.
“We did a good job being patient with Santana,” Braves manager Fredi Gonzalez said. “We got him over 80 pitches [in five innings]. We just didn’t swing the bat.”
Every National League playoff team hit better than the Braves did with runners in scoring position in 2011, and Atlanta’s .195 average in those situations during September was the second-worst in the majors and a big part of the team’s 10-20 collapse that blew their big wild-card lead.
They went 0-for-6 with runners in scoring position Monday, and the Braves have now scored seven runs in 58 innings during six consecutive losses going back to last season.
Hanson (0-1) allowed one run, four hits and three walks in five-plus innings in his first opening-day start. The Mets scored against him in the sixth, when Hanson issued a leadoff walk to Andres Torres and before consecutive hits by Daniel Murphy and David Wright gave New York a 1-0 lead.
“It was just one run,” Hanson said. “Sometimes that’s going to happen. Sometimes you’re going to go out and that’s going to happen. Sometimes you’re going to go out and have a bad game and you’re going to win. That’s just the way it is. But I felt like I went out and did my job. I gave us a chance to win and we were in there until the ninth inning. All it would have taken is one swing.”
Kris Medlen relieved Hanson with two on and none out in the sixth and worked out of the jam on his way to getting six outs in six batters over two innings. But the Mets made the lead stand to the delight of a crowd of 42,080, the largest in the three-year history of Citi Field.
Seven of Hanson’s 23 career losses have come by one run, and in eight of his last nine losses the Braves scored two or fewer runs while he’s been in the game.
After the Diaz double off Santana the Braves had a feeling they were able to break through against the veteran left-hander. But Jason Heyward popped out. And after consecutive walks by Pastornicky and Hanson loaded the bases, Michael Bourn hit a grounder back to Santana that ended the inning.
In the sixth inning, reliever Ramon Ramirez (1-0) walked Brian McCann and Uggla singled to put two on with one out, but Freddie Freeman flied out deep to right and Diaz grounded out to end the inning. And after Pastornicky’s triple in the seventh, reliever Tim Byrdak struck out Jose Constanza and and Michael Bourn to end the inning.
In three consecutive innings the Braves had runners in scoring position with less than two outs and failed to score.
“We felt like we were about to do something big,” Uggla said. “I think those last four or five innings everybody felt comfortable and settled in a little bit, and we put together some good at-bats. We just didn’t find the holes, maybe just missed a pitch here and there. But Freddie squared up a ball to right field, it just didn’t carry enough to get out of the ballpark. But all in all today we just came up a little short.”
His last start before Monday had also come against the Braves on Sept. 2, 2010, when Santana left after five innings with a strained pectoral muscle. A week later an MRI showed a tear in the anterior capsule of his left shoulder.
“He’s not the guy who’s throwing 94 [mph] anymore but I tell you what, he still knows how to pitch,” Uggla said. “He knows how to compete and he’s still got that great change-up. He went out and battled and got us today. Tommy went out and battled, too. They were able to scrape one across. We had a couple of opportunities to get some runs but we didn’t come through. But at least we got this game out of the way. Opening day is always a lot of fun, but there’s a always a lot of jitters involved, a lot of butterflies.”