No Braves player was more excited last week about getting back to Atlanta and opening the new ballpark than Ender Inciarte. The center fielder said after his two-homer game in a win at Miami on Wednesday hoped that would be a momentum-changer for the Braves before their home opener at SunTrust Park, which he said “is beautiful and hopefully it’s going to be a really positive ballpark for us.”
Then on Friday night, Inciarte made sure it was, at least for the opening night at the gleaming new ballpark hard by I-285 in Cobb County. He singled and scored in the first inning and hit a two-run homer in the sixth inning for the final runs of 5-2 win over the San Diego Padres, helping to provide a positive experience for the Braves and a sellout crowd of 41,149, including many former Braves greats and President Jimmy Carter and Rosalynn.
“Man, I really hope we get this energy every single game because everyone was pumped in the dugout,” Inciarte said. “That’s what we are looking forward (to). If the fans can give us that every day we know we are going to be able to do a lot of good things in this ballpark.”
Inciarte nearly cornered the market on firsts at the new ballpark, getting the first hit and scoring the first run after catching a fly ball for the first out. He helped Julio Teheran (1-0) get the first win at SunTrust Park on a night when the Braves’ No. 1 starter labored for much of his six innings, but made plenty of big pitches when he needed them most.
“Obviously I didn’t have my best, but I battled the whole game,” said Teheran, who was charged with five hits, two runs, four walks and two hit batters and had five strikeouts plus the game-winning RBI on an infield single. “I’m glad that I was able to battle and compete and get through six innings.”
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Inciarte’s three homers in the past two games matches his total from his entire first season with the Braves in 2016, when the Gold Glove winner hit .291 with a .351 OBP and three homers in 578 plate appearances.
After the first four batters in the bottom of the first inning had been to the plate, the Braves already had their first hit, their first two runs and first two extra-base hits at their new ballpark, including Nick Markakis’ two-run double that provided a 2-0 lead for Teheran. Freddie Freeman’s double was the first extra-base hit.
This was unusual ground for Teheran, the hard-luck pitcher who had but seven wins to go with a 3.21 ERA in an All-Star season in 2016 and entered Friday with no decisions and two team losses in two starts this season despite allowing no earned runs.
Perhaps he was so surprised to have a lead before his second inning, he forgot how to act. Teheran gave the lead back right away.
He walked the first batter in the second inning, then induced a double-play grounder before hitting No. 7 hitter Erick Aybar with a pitch. Three consecutive singles followed, including run-scoring hits by pitcher Jhoulys Chacin and Manuel Margot, who was thrown out trying to steal second base to end the inning.
Chacin’s chopped RBI single snapped Teheran’s streak of 23 consecutive innings without allowing an earned run dating to Sept. 27.
Teheran also gave up a leadoff walk and a single to start the third inning, but worked out of that trouble with a double-play grounder and a strikeout to start a solid run of pitching for the Braves’ four-time opening-day starter. He got nine outs in a span of nine batters before hitting Yangervis Solarte with a pitch to start the sixth inning, then walking Ryan Schimpf.
With his pitch count already near 100, Teheran again worked out of a tight spot by getting the next three batters on a line out, a fly out and a strikeout of Austin Hedges.
“I wanted him to get back out there and get through the sixth,” Braves manager Brian Snitker said. “That was huge. He never gave in, he just kept pitching, kept battling.”
After the Hedges strikeout to end the sixth, Teheran pumped his arm to show his excitement before walking off the field. He threw 66 strikes in 105 pitches.
“I wanted to win this game, the first game in this ballpark for the franchise,” Teheran said. “I knew I didn’t have my best and it was going to be a tough night for me. I’m happy now that I had this special moment for the team, for my career.”
Chacin had a 5.40 ERA and one win in five starts for the Braves in 2016 before he was traded to the Angels on May 11. To understand how severe is the Padres’ current rebuilding project, consider that Chacin was their opening-day starter this season.
He was rocked for a career-high nine runs in 3 2/3 innings in an opening loss at Dodger Stadium, then had a stunning bounce-back game when he outpitched Giants ace Madison Bumgarner in Chacin’s second start, working 6 2/3 scoreless innings and allowing just three hits.
Inciarte led off with an infield hit, and Freeman had a one-out double. With runners at second and third, Markakis drove in both with a double to the right-field warning track for a 2-0 lead.
Chacin settled down after that and got on a roll, recording 10 outs in the next 11 batters, including double-play grounders by Markakis after a Freeman infield hit in the third inning and Adonis Garcia after a Brandon Phillips leadoff single in the fourth inning. The Braves have grounded into 13 double plays in nine games, second-most in the National League.
After Garcia’s double-play grounder, Flowers got the Braves going again with a two-out single, and Jace Peterson walked to bring up Teheran, whose ground-ball single was fielded behind second base by Solarte, who bounced a throw to first base.
Teheran, hustling on the would-be close play, was credited with an RBI single, though it seemed questionable whether Flowers would’ve scored from second on an infield hit if the throw hadn’t bounced off first baseman Wil Myers’ glove.