New-look Braves silence bats of Nats
Posted: Friday, April 1, 2011 5:12 pm
By: By HOWARD FENDRICH, AP Sports Writer
WASHINGTON (AP) — Fredi Gonzalez was riding in a taxi a little before 8 a.m., heading from his hotel to the ballpark for Game 1 in his new job.
His cell phone rang. It was a call from his predecessor as manager of the Atlanta Braves, Bobby Cox.
“He knows the schedule,” Gonzalez said. “He goes, ‘Are you getting out of the cab?’
“And I go, ‘We’re right around the corner from the stadium.’ So we talked a little bit.”
About eight hours after that conversation Thursday morning, Gonzalez was sitting in the visiting manager’s office at Nationals Park, a 2002 bottle of Dom Perignon champagne on his desk, a smile on his face, and a perfect record on his Braves resume — thanks to a 2-0 victory over the Washington Nationals on a chilly, damp opening day.
“He’s 1-0. He’s undefeated as an Atlanta Braves manager,” third baseman Chipper Jones said. “It’s good to get it out of the way for him, for us, for the fans of Atlanta.”
Returning from major knee surgery, Jones legged out a double for the first hit of the baseball season then scored the first run of 2011, Jason Heyward homered, and Derek Lowe allowed three singles in 5 2-3 innings.
“It doesn’t feel any different. A win’s a win,” said Gonzalez, who previously managed the Florida Marlins. “I’m wearing this uniform and, hopefully, I’m wearing it for a long time and get a lot of wins.”
Approaching his 39th birthday, Jones came back in a big way.
At the plate in a real game for the first time since August, he beat a throw from new Washington Nationals right fielder Jayson Werth in the first inning, then came around on Brian McCann’s single up the middle.
One season after the Year of the Pitcher — a pair of perfect games 20 days apart, four other no-hitters — Lowe (1-0) started things off with a shutout.
With his sinker in fine, darting form, he struck out six and walked two.
“Probably the best I’ve seen him pitch in a long time,” said Werth, the $126 million man who went 1 for 4 and made two diving catches in his first home game at Nationals Park. “His ball was sharp.”
Ryan Zimmerman’s take on Lowe: “He was him. You know what you’re going to get from him, and we got it.”
The 37-year-old Lowe struck out the side in the third, including Zimmerman looking to end the inning. Zimmerman argued some with umpire Tim Welke while walking away; he tossed his bat, helmet and batting gloves on the ground, then yanked out his gum and chucked that, too.
Lowe needed plenty of pitches, 105, and left after walking Zimmerman in the sixth. Adam LaRoche followed by singling off lefty Eric O’Flaherty, who got out of it by getting Michael Morse to ground out.
“There was a lot of trying to figure each other out. I couldn’t go after them the same exact way I did last time, because with technology you can figure each other out,” Lowe said. “It was a cat-and-mouse game. That’s probably why I threw so many pitches in a short amount of time.”
Four relievers got the last 10 outs. Craig Kimbrel worked a 1-2-3 ninth for the save, his second in the majors.
Lowe’s only spot of trouble, really, came in the first, when Werth and Zimmerman singled, putting runners at the corners with one out. But LaRoche, a free agent brought in to take over for the departed Adam Dunn at first base, popped out to second, and Morse, who earned the left-field job vacated by the traded Josh Willingham, grounded out.
“Lowe really locked down,” Nationals manager Jim Riggleman said.
With two outs in the first, 1999 NL MVP Jones doubled to right on a 3-2 pitch in his first at-bat in a regular-season game since tearing up his left knee Aug. 10. He also singled in the ninth. McCann drove home Jones by grounding a single up the middle off Livan Hernandez (0-1) in the first, and Heyward led off the second with a homer.
Heyward also homered in Game 1 a year ago, in his first major league at-bat. According to STATS and the SABR Home Run Log, he’s only the second player in major league history to homer in his first at-bat of his team’s opening day game as a rookie and again the following year. The other was Kazuo Matsui with the New York Mets in 2004 and 2005.
Said Gonzalez: “Maybe we’ll trick him on Saturday,” when the series resumes after Friday’s day off. “Tell him it’s opening day again.”
Spoken like a pull-all-the-right-strings manager.
NOTES: A non-sellout crowd of 39,055 braved the cold — it was 41 degrees when Hernandez threw a called strike to Martin Prado for the first pitch at 1:11 p.m. — and a misty drizzle that came and went. “I couldn’t really feel my toes,” Nationals reliever Tyler Clippard said. ... After giving up Heyward’s homer on a hanging slider, Hernandez retired 16 of 17 batters the rest of the way, including 15 in a row. Making his ninth opening day start, Hernandez allowed four hits in 6 2-3 innings. ... Gonzalez’s debut as a major league manager also came against the Nationals, a 9-2 Marlins victory at RFK Stadium in 2007. ... Atlanta RHP Tommy Hanson faces Washington LHP John Lannan on Saturday.