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Mike Soroka versus Jacob deGrom duel lived up to the hype on opening day.

After playing to a stalemate through 6-1/2 innings, Yoenis Cespedes – playing his first game in just over two years – cranked a solo home run off reliever Chris Martin. The Braves lost to the Mets 1-0 at Citi Field on Friday.

“I don’t care if he took a five-year hiatus, he gets in the batter’s box, you’re worried,” Braves manager Brian Snitker said of Cespedes. “He’s such a presence. It’s what he’s capable of.”

In typical Soroka fashion, he didn’t show his youthful age (22) on the big stage. In his first opening-day start, Soroka pitched six scoreless innings, allowing four hits, striking out three and not issuing a walk. Soroka pitched around a leadoff single from Amed Rosario to complete his final inning.

Soroka became the youngest opening-day starter in the Braves’ modern history. He threw 69 pitches, 48 strikes. Soroka showed a nice mix of pitches, with his noted sinker sharp out of the gate.

It was Soroka’s first time facing another team since March before MLB shut down.

“I definitely had no trouble getting into a rhythm,” Soroka said. “Switch zeros like that, obviously you’d rather have someone aboard, but it’s not the worst thing to not have that long to sit in the dugout. I think it’s the third time I’ve faced him now. I’ve gotten used to watching him and feeding off the energy he brings to the mound. He’s been so good for the last few years. You just want to try to keep up.”

DeGrom pitched five scoreless innings, throwing 72 pitches and allowing only two base runners. Ronald Acuna collected the only hit against the reigning Cy Young winner on a broken-bat single. DeGrom owns a 1.90 ERA against the Braves in his career (22 starts).

It was the Mets’ first victory when Soroka and deGrom go head-to-head. The Braves were 2-0 in their previous meetings.

“For me, (Soroka) matched up with the game’s best right there, and it was pretty impressive on both sides,” Snitker said. “DeGrom did what he does. Mike, getting his first opening-day start, was every bit as good.”

Because of the starters’ brilliance, neither team had a player reach third base until the seventh inning. Marcell Ozuna laced a one-out double to left and advanced on a passed ball. Reliever Seth Lugo retired Matt Adams and Austin Riley to keep the game scoreless.

The Braves had another opportunity in the eighth, when Dansby Swanson opened the frame with a hit. Adam Duvall struck out, Johan Camargo grounded out and Acuna struck out to leave Swanson stranded at second. Freddie Freeman drew a one-out walk in the ninth, but Edwin Diaz fanned Ozuna and Adams to end it.

“We just missed a couple,” Snitker said. “I thought Freddie might’ve tied it in the ninth (with a long hit that went foul). Runs are going to be at a premium when you have guys like that throwing. It was a good ballgame. We made some good plays. Dansby made a couple really nice plays (at shortstop). It was a well-played game for the first one that these guys are out there doing.”

Credit: Atlanta Braves

Braves first baseman Freddie Freeman talks about his 10th day opening day and the special circumstances surrounding this one amid the coronavirus pandemic.

Credit: Atlanta Braves

Notes from opening day:

- Soroka exited after 69 pitches, paving way for Martin, who allowed the homer. The Braves weren’t going to push their young ace in his first start, and Soroka understood the decision to lift him.

“I understood this one,” he said. “And coming into it we understood it. The up-downs are a different thing. Obviously, had it been the fourth or fifth inning when I hit that pitch count, I definitely would’ve pushed harder to go back out. The thing is too, you have to understand you’re coming into a season with a fresh bullpen as well. And that really good bullpen we have, that’s something I understood coming out. That wasn’t the time to push it.”

Snitker said of lifting Soroka: “My gut told me if you have a kid like that, I don’t care if it’s April or July and it’s the first start, if he gives you six innings, that’s above and beyond what you can expect. Heck, I was hoping for four. It was an emotional six too, to have to face (Pete Alonso) to end the inning. If he can do that, there wasn’t any need to stretch him anymore.”

- Freeman provided two season-firsts in the first frame. He became the Braves’ first base runner when he drew a walk off deGrom. He was also responsible for the team’s first outstanding defensive play, snagging a sharply hit ball by Jeff McNeil and tagging first to get Brandon Nimmo for a double play.

- Soroka’s shutout was preserved in the fourth with the help of McNeil’s base-running blunder. McNeil was at second after doubling off Soroka. He was initially ruled out on a rocket throw from Acuna in the right-field corner but was safe upon review.

It didn’t come back to haunt the Braves. McNeil tried to advance to third on Alonso’s grounder to short, allowing Swanson to fire into third. Austin Riley tagged McNeil out on a collision. Soroka retired Michael Conforto to end the inning.

- Ender Inciarte made an impressive leaping catch in deep center to prevent J.D. Davis from at least logging a double and likely knocking in the game’s first run. The three-time Gold Glove winner perfectly timed his jump. Inciarte also made a nice running catch to retire McNeil in the sixth.

“I have to catch that ball, that’s why I’m there,” Inciarte said, recalling his thoughts while tracking Davis’ ball. “I feel good when I can make a play to help the team. I was ready, I was anticipating the ball coming to me. Luckily I was able to make that play.”

Soroka added: “Wow. That’s an Ender catch. Talking to him before the game even, I told him, ‘We’re going to need you today.' He made two (great catches) really. That one in the gap too. Off the bat, I wasn’t sure if that could get caught. He made it look easy. That’s him. We’ve gotten used to that. That was special. Very lucky to have him out in center field.”

- Playing in an empty stadium is baseball’s new normal. Inciarte said the fans were missed, but the adrenaline was still there. Snitker said he was so focused on the game that the emptiness never came to mind.

“I love having the fans, but with the noise and everything, you get so entrenched in the game that you don’t even realize that either,” Snitker said. “The whole day was really, really good, other than the outcome.”

- Riley went 0-for-3 with three strikeouts in his first opening-day start at third base. He wasn’t as bad as the numbers show. While one of his strikeouts came on a slider, he did lay off several sliders against deGrom and Lugo. He worked two 0-2 counts to full. The results weren’t there, but Riley did exhibit growing plate discipline.

- Catcher Alex Jackson, who was forced into action after both the Braves’ regular catchers were placed on the COVID-19-designated injured list, went 0-for-2 with two strikeouts.

Jackson only appeared in four games last season and is still seeking his first major-league hit. He’ll start again Saturday.

“Very (impressed),” Soroka said. “I pitched to Jackson a little bit in Double-A and maybe a little in (Triple-A) Gwinnett last year. To be honest with you, he really didn’t miss a beat. He was really calm. ... We were on the same page the whole time. I didn’t shake him off many times. To be able to do that when we haven’t worked together in a long time is pretty cool. He did an awesome job receiving, staying with it, keeping the tempo up. He’s a big-league catcher.”

- Catcher William Contreras made his MLB debut in the eighth when he replaced Jackson. Contreras caught right-hander Shane Greene, who allowed a Nimmo single but nothing further.

- Ozuna went 1-for-4 in his Braves debut. He broke through with a one-out double in the seventh and was the only Brave to reach third base.

- The Braves and Mets continue their three-game series Saturday. The game will feature a pair of lefty starters in Max Fried and Steven Matz.