The Braves looked ready to walk away with an opening-day win against their arch rival, the Nationals, after Jeff Francoeur scored the go-ahead run in the eighth inning of his homecoming to thrill a loud, welcoming crowd.
But they fumbled away a lead and the game, spoiling opening day in a 4-3, 10-inning loss to Washington before an announced sellout of 48,282 Monday afternoon at Turner Field.
After the Braves took a 3-2 lead on Adonis Garcia’s bases-loaded walk in the eighth, the Nationals scored the tying run in the ninth when catcher A.J. Pierznski dropped a throw to the plate on Michael Taylor’s bases-loaded sacrifice fly to shallow center field, preventing a would-be game-ending double play.
The Nationals scored the winning run in the 10th after a two-base throwing error on second baseman Gordon Beckham, who had entered the game in the ninth inning.
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“That one’s tough to swallow,” said Braves first baseman Freddie Freeman, who hit a first-inning homer and was hit by a pitch to load the bases in the eighth. “We played a great game for eight innings, then kind of let that one get away from us in the last couple of innings. We just didn’t catch the ball when we needed to.
“When you’ve got them down, you want to step on their necks, and we weren’t able to do that today. But we’ve got 161 more.”
The Nationals have won 22 of the past 31 games against the Braves, who had won 24 of the previous 31.
Beckham was playing on the shortstop side of second base in a defensive shift when he fielded Ryan Zimmerman’s grounder and threw way wide of first base. Daniel Murphy followed with an RBI double off left-hander Eric O’Flaherty for a 4-3 lead.
“We always want to catch the baseball,” Braves manager Fredi Gonzalez said of the late errors. “It’s the first game, but what did we make, two errors today? And one of them cost us a run there with O’Flaherty on the mound. You want to catch the baseball. When you’re playing a good club like they are and you have a chance to win the game and you give them errors, you give them outs, you’re asking for trouble. And today we did that.”
Reduced to footnotes were home runs by Garcia and Freeman, a quality start from Julio Teheran and impressive relief from Dan Winkler, who struck out the side in the seventh inning, and Arodys Vizcaino, who struck out two in the eighth.
Before Freeman homered off Max Scherzer in the first inning and Garcia in the fourth, the Nationals had taken a lead with a homer against Teheran in the top of each of those innings, with Braves nemesis Bryce Harper starting things on a towering homer to the right-field seats with two out in the opening inning.
Inciarte’s throw to the plate in the eighth was a good one, but Pierzysnki dropped it and ruined what could’ve been a nifty escape for Jason Grilli, after the Nationals loaded the bases in the ninth with no outs on a walk, a single through the right side of a shifted defense, and a bunt just up the first-base line that went for another single.
Grilli struck out Stephen Drew for the first out, and Taylor flied out to Inciarte, whose bounced throw beat Werth by a couple of steps. Pierzynski never appeared to have control of the ball before trying to make the tag.
Garcia, after hitting a game-tying solo homer in the fourth, drew a four-pitch walk frpom Shawn Kelly with bases loaded in the eighth to score Francoeur, who got the rally started with a full-count walk against left-hander Felipe Rivero.
The Braves hoped a healthy Freeman and full season of Garcia will help boost significantly their team’s feeble home-run total from 2015, and those two came through with a homer apiece in the opener.
Washington home runs from Harper and Daniel Murphy made it 29 homers allowed by Teheran in 32 starts going back to April 17, 2015, including seven in four starts against the Nationals during that stretch.
But Teheran was otherwise solid, allowing five hits and two runs in six innings, with three walks and four strikeouts. He’s made three consecutive opening-day starts for the Braves and gone 1-1 with a 2.50 ERA, including no decision Monday.
Harper has hit .440 with four homers in 25 career at-bats against Teheran, including his two-out homer in the opening inning Monday, after he was greeted by a chorus of boos at Turner Field.
A two-out throwing error by shortstop Erick Aybar – on the first ball hit to him in the post-Andrelton Simmons era – extended the first inning, and Teheran walked Murphy before striking out Werth to end the 30-pitch inning.