Soroka tosses six shutout innings as Braves fall in opener, 1-0
NEW YORK, N.Y. (AP) - Sure didn’t take much time for Yoenis Céspedes to swing right into a DH role in his long-awaited return.
Céspedes came back with a bang, immediately capitalizing on the new designated hitter rule in the National League by launching a home run that sent Jacob deGrom and the New York Mets past the Atlanta Braves 1-0 in their season opener Friday.
After five dominant innings from deGrom, who was popping the catcher’s mitt with 99 mph fastballs at the start, Céspedes connected in the seventh off reliever Chris Martin (0-1) for his first long ball since his previous major league game on July 20, 2018.
“I don’t care if he took a five-year hiatus, when he gets in the batter’s box, you’re worried,” Braves manager Brian Snitker said. “He’s such a presence.”
The 34-year-old slugger missed most of the past two seasons with a string of leg injuries, requiring surgery on both heels and then a broken ankle after a bad fall at his Florida ranch in a reported run-in with a wild boar.
Rules changes for this shortened season delayed by the coronavirus provided a DH in NL games for the first time — giving the Mets a perfect slot for Céspedes even if left field presents a problem.
With no fans at Citi Field due to the pandemic, it was easy to hear teammates exclaiming in the dugout when Céspedes sent his drive soaring into the empty left-field seats.
“They erupted. They went crazy,” rookie manager Luis Rojas said. “Obviously, it’s a big moment for Cés. He’s been waiting.”
Seth Lugo (1-0) tossed two innings, pitching out of trouble in the seventh, and Justin Wilson whiffed Ronald Acuna Jr. with a runner in scoring position to end the eighth.
Edwin Díaz, who lost his job as closer during a miserable 2019 season, struck out two in a hitless ninth for the save. He worked around a one-out walk, giving the 38-year-old Rojas a victory in his debut.
After the game, he got a game ball from his players and a celebratory shower that Rojas said was beginning to make his uniform stink.
“I don’t know what they threw on me, but they threw a lot of stuff,” Rojas said.
Braves All-Star starter Mike Soroka, who won his previous two matchups with deGrom, allowed four hits in six outstanding innings. He was aided by two terrific grabs from three-time Gold Glove center fielder Ender Inciarte, who robbed J.D. Davis of a potential two-run homer.
“He matched up with the game’s best right there,” Snitker said about Soroka. “It was pretty impressive on both sides.”
Coming off consecutive Cy Young Awards, deGrom fanned eight and permitted only a broken-bat single and a walk. He was pulled after 72 pitches following a back-tightness scare early last week. The right-hander extended his scoreless streak to a career-best 28 innings dating to last season, the longest active streak in the majors.
“I’ve gotten used to watching him and feeding off the energy he brings to the mound,” Soroka said. “He’s been so good the last few years and you just want to keep up.”
Atlanta first baseman Freddie Freeman made his 10th straight opening day start after returning to camp a week ago from a frightening bout with COVID-19 that spiked his fever to 104.5 degrees.
Marcell Ozuna doubled and went 1 for 4 in his Braves debut.
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