Hale pitched five scoreless innings and struck out nine to set a record for a Braves pitcher in his first game before San Diego rallied against Atlanta's bullpen for a 4-3 win on Friday night.
Chase Headley hit a tying homer and Logan Forsythe drove in the go-ahead run in San Diego's two-run eighth that spoiled Hale's impressive start.
Forsythe's pinch-hit, go-ahead single off Scott Downs drove in Tommy Medica.
Hale was left with everything he wanted except for the win.
"It was a dream come true, it really was," Hale said. "I had so much adrenaline. Adrenaline helps, I guess."
Hale, from Marietta, Ga., near Atlanta, was recalled from Triple-A Gwinnett on Sept. 5. He filled in for left-hander Paul Maholm, who was skipped in the rotation because of a sore left elbow. An MRI on Wednesday showed no serious injury.
Hale didn't have more than six strikeouts in a game at Gwinnett, but his fastball seemed to gain life on the major league stage.
"He was outstanding," Braves manager Fredi Gonzalez said. "We couldn't ask for anything more. It couldn't have been scripted better."
Hale impressed the Padres.
"You never know what you're going to get when you're facing guys for the first time," Headley said.
"We didn't have any video to see. We just had a little scouting report. I thought his fastball was really good. He threw some that had some good sink and run on it and some that stayed up. It was very impressive to have him come up in that situation and pitch the way that he did."
Justin Upton and Brian McCann hit home runs off Ian Kennedy in the third inning to give the Braves a 3-0 lead.
Hale, from Princeton University, struck out Will Venable, also from Princeton, for his first out.
Hale said he had more than 100 family members and friends at the game, including members of Princeton's baseball team.
Hale struck out the side in the first, including Headley and Kyle Blanks with runners on first and third following singles by Denorfia and Jedd Gyorko.
The clutch pitching by the rookie in the first inning set a pattern. Hale struck out Gyorko to end the third with a runner on second and fanned Cedeno to end the fourth with a runner on third.
The Padres scored two runs in the seventh and tied the game on Headley's leadoff homer off Jordan Walden (4-3) in the eighth.
Walden walked Medica, who moved to second on a wild pitch and scored on Forsythe's single off Downs.
Padres manager Bud Black had Alexi Armarista, a left-handed hitter, introduced as a pinch-hitter but opted for Forsythe after Gonzalez brought in Downs, a left-hander.
"Downs is a good pitcher," Black said. "We just wanted to get a right-handed bat."
Headley said the Padres "kept battling and having good at-bats. I felt we kept the pressure on, even when they made pitches to get guys out, it was just a battle."
Nick Vincent (5-3) had three strikeouts in the seventh. Luke Gregerson pitched a perfect eighth before Huston Street got the final three outs for his 30th save.
Kennedy didn't allow a hit until Upton led off the third with his 25th homer to left field. Freddie Freeman walked and scored on McCann's two-run homer, a high shot to right field.
Kennedy has allowed 25 homers, the second-highest total in the National League.
San Diego loaded the bases with no outs in the seventh on singles by Medica, Ronny Cedeno and Rene Rivera off Luis Ayala.
Medica scored on pinch-hitter Jesus Guzman's infield single off Luis Avilan. After Venable's grounder forced out Cedeno at the plate,
Chris Denorfia's fly ball to right field off David Carpenter drove in Rivera, cutting Atlanta's lead to 3-2.
Downs, a left-hander, was cleared after being examined before the game for a non-displaced fracture to the tip of his right ring finger.