Markakis’ walk-off homer caps 8-run rally in Braves’ opening-day win over Phillies

Freddie Freeman’s two-run homer started the Braves’ eight-run rally Thursday. (Curtis Compton/ccompton@ajc.com)

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Freddie Freeman’s two-run homer started the Braves’ eight-run rally Thursday. (Curtis Compton/ccompton@ajc.com)

The Braves had a knack last season for overcoming bad bullpen outings with late rallies that at least made things interesting throughout the summer, and they did it again Thursday on opening day. In fact, they more than made things interesting.

Nick Markakis hit a three-run walk-off homer with two out in the ninth inning to cap a stunning rally from five runs down and give the Braves an 8-5 win over the Phillies before a crowd of 40,208 at SunTrust Park.

It was the first game-ending homer of the 13-year veteran’s career and the Braves’ first walk-off homer on opening day since the team moved to Atlanta in 1966.

“It’s big,” said Markakis, who homered on a 1-1 pitch from Hector Naris after the Phillies intentionally walked Freddie Freeman with a runner at second. “It says a lot about our team. We grinded out at-bats. That’s what we’re going to have to do. It was a great win overall.”

The Braves scored the last eight runs including homers by Freeman and Ozzie Albies. They trailed 5-0 before Freeman’s two-run homer in the sixth, and Albies’ leadoff homer in the eighth started a three-run inning with Preston Tucker’s hit tying the game after Freeman scored on a wild pitch and throwing error.

"That was a fun game to be a part of," Freeman said. "It's the same thing like last year. We were never out of a game. We fought until the end and we did that tonight. Complete team effort. Everybody did something tonight to help us win the game. It's fun being part of those."

The Braves needed the good result after losing catcher Tyler Flowers in the second inning to a strained oblique that will likely land him on the 10-day disabled list.

Since Brian Snitker became Braves manager on May 17, 2016, the team leads the majors with 38 wins in their last at-bat. Snitker watched the end of this one on TV after being ejected for arguing balls and strikes in the eighth inning.

After Charlie Culberson hit a leadoff single in the ninth and advanced on a sacrifice, Albies flied out and the Phillies intentionally walked Freeman to bring up Markakis.

He fouled off a 1-0 pitch before driving the next offering over the right-center field wall, kicking off a celebration as what remained of a sold-out crowd roared and teammates poured from the dugout and bullpen to mob Markakis.

“Every time Nick is up I think he’s going to get a hit,” Freeman said. “He’s a complete pro, ultimate pro. We’re lucky to have him on this team. When you’ve got 2,000 hits, you’re kind of wanting to be up in that situation and he did it today.”

Markakis, batting cleanup behind Freeman, had been 0-for-4 before the homer.

“I over-swung a little on the 1-0 pitch,” Markakis said. “I was just thinking to myself, calm down, nice easy swing, try not to miss it.

“It only takes one at-bat, one pitch. That’s the beauty of this game. You go 0-for-4, next thing you know you’re up in a winning situation in the game. Like I said, one pitch, one at-bat can change the whole game.”

After the Braves bullpen faltered in a four-run sixth inning that gave the Phillies a 5-0 lead, the Braves rallied and won, the largest deficit the franchise has overcome on opening day in the modern era since 1900.

“When Freddie hit that homer,” Tucker said of the rally igniter. “That’s really all it took. I think that’s the first ball we really laid into and everybody really fed off that.”

Julio Teheran was charged with four hits, four runs and three walks with three strikeouts in his fifth consecutive opening-day start for the Braves. He pitched well for most of his outing and left with a 2-0 deficit and two runners on after giving up a leadoff homer and a two-out hit batter and walk in the sixth.

Rex Brothers walked the next two batters – the only batters he faced -- and Dan Winkler gave up an RBI single before the inning was through.

After Albies’ homer in the eighth, it was the Phillies’ bullpen that got sloppy, with Adam Morgan walking Freeman and Edubray Ramos walking Kurt Suzuki with one out to put the potential tying runs on base. Freeman scored from second when a wild pitch was compounded by a throwing error by catcher Andrew Knapp, and pinch-runner Peter Bourjos scored on Tucker’s single.

Both Braves homers came against relievers after Phillies starter Aaron Nola allowed just three hits and one walk in 5 1/3 innings, the lone run charged to him scoring when Freeman homered off reliever Hoby Milner immediately after the lefty was brought in to face the Braves slugger with one out in the sixth. Ender Inciarte was on second after doubling, the only extra-base hit against Nola.

“Nola put the screws in and once they took him out it was kind of a jolt for us,” Freeman said. “We got to their bullpen, got a couple of runs on the board. Ozzie was the key to us getting that whole inning started. Preston with a huge hit to tie the game. I think everybody contributed. Charlie getting the big knock in that inning too, to get everything started. It was kind of the ultimate team win.”

The Braves scored three or fewer runs 12 times against the Phillies in 2017 and went 6-13 against them, and for much of the game Thursday it looked like more of the same.

So, too, was thje performance by some Braves relievers oh-too familiar.

Teheran recorded 13 outs in a 14-batter span following Rhys Hoskins’ run-scoring double that provided the Phillies with a 1-0 lead with two out in the first. He issued two walks during the next four innings and induced a double-play grounder by the next batter in each case.

But he ran into a wall in the sixth, when Teheran gave up a leadoff homer to Cesar Hernandez on a flat full-count change-up. Two outs later, he hit Hoskins with a pitch and walked Aaron Altherr on his 90th and final pitch of the day.

In came Brothers to provide nothing that resembled relief.

Brothers walked two batters with two out, loading the bases with the free pass he issued to J.P. Crawford and then forcing in a run with a walk to Maikel Franco. Winkler followed him and gave up a two-run single before striking out Nola to end a nine-batter, four-run inning that featured only two hits.