Opening Night heartbreaker for Braves
Hudson's gem receives little support; late comeback spoiled
WASHINGTON -- Chipper Jones could only provide his patented smirk and wonder if the baseball gods had just conspired against him and his teammates. A few moments later, Jeff Francoeur made his way to his locker and wondered if the Nationals were destined to open their new park with this sort of celebration.Whatever the case, the Braves left Nationals Park late Sunday night burdened by a 3-2 loss to the Nationals and bewildered that such an impressive outing by Tim Hudson could go to waste. Despite Hudson proving perfect after a rocky first inning and having the fortune of seeing Martin Prado score a game-tying run on a passed ball with two outs in the top of the ninth, the Braves still had no reason to celebrate this season opener. Any chance of them stealing an extra-inning victory was erased when Ryan Zimmerman drilled a two-out walk-off homer against Peter Moylan in the bottom of the ninth. "So many things just didn't quite go our way," said Jones, whose fourth-inning solo shot off Odalis Perez accounted for the first homer in the new stadium's history. "Sometimes, you're just not meant to win." The Braves had a chance to win a third straight season opener until Moylan left a sinker over the middle of the plate for Zimmerman, who promptly deposited it over the left-center-field wall. In 90 innings last year, the right-handed reliever surrendered just six homers. "You can't dwell on it," said Moylan, who had retired the previous four batters he'd faced after entering with one out in the eighth. "I'll think about it for a while. But tomorrow is another day." With a national-television audience watching this year's first Major League game on United States soil, Hudson proved to be both marvelous and unfortunate. Unfortunately, his first-inning misfortunes proved great enough to allow the Nationals to score twice and gain a lead they'd hold until Prado raced home when Nationals catcher Paul Lo Duca couldn't secure a Jon Rauch pitch. Prado had entered the game as a pinch-runner in place of Mark Teixeira, who had started the ninth-inning rally with a one-out double off the right-center-field wall. While it momentarily looked like a potential homer, Teixeira's drive didn't come as close to clearing the outfield fence as Brian McCann's second-inning single off Perez. When the heavy-footed McCann attempted to turn the single into a double, he accounted for yet another of the many costly early miscues that plagued the Braves. Leadoff hitter Kelly Johnson got picked of after his two-out single in the third.
"We made some mental mistakes on the bases and we just didn't hit," McCann said. "Huddy gave us a great chance to win."Hudson surrendered just two earned runs and three hits in seven innings. While impressive, the line doesn't tell how dominant he truly was. After a 29-pitch first inning in which he was one strike away from escaping unscathed, Hudson retired 18 straight batters and needed a total of just 49 pitches to do so. "[Hudson] couldn't pitch any better tonight," Braves manager Bobby Cox said. "He didn't have any luck in the first inning." Cristian Guzman singled to begin the first against Hudson and then raced to third base when an errant pickoff attempt found its way into right field. After registering two strikeouts and getting ahead of Nick Johnson with an 0-2 count, it looked like the veteran hurler might escape. But Johnson fisted a broken-bat double into shallow right field and then raced home when Austin Kearns followed with a single. Hudson then retired 19 straight batters and was only spared a loss after the Nationals got a taste of bad luck in the ninth inning. "We had a chance there at the end, when we tied it up with a little luck going our way," Hudson said. "But you've just got to give them credit. We rallied late, but we couldn't quite get enough there at the end." If an opposing player was going to hit the first homer in the history of Nationals Park, it made sense that Jones took care of the honors. His fourth-inning shot marked the 12th homer that he's hit against the Nationals since the start of the 2006 season. His seven homers against the Phillies stands as the second-highest total he's hit against an opposing team during that span. "It's kind of a cool little sidebar," Jones said. "But I'm not overly gushing about it right now." Obviously, there wasn't any reason for the Braves to be gushing after beginning the season with this sort of disheartening loss. There will sure to be others during the course of the season and on those occasions when nothing seemingly goes their way, they may once again wonder if destiny had played a part. "Sometimes it's just not meant to be," Francoeur said.
Mark Bowman is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.