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 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 off-season back surgery.
In his absence, Tommy Hanson got the 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.”
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.