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Braves squander late lead in 4-3 Opening Day loss to Washington

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The Braves held a late lead in this one, but some shaky pitching and defense ended up costing the Braves that lead and ultimately the game.

MLB: Washington Nationals at Atlanta Braves Dale Zanine-USA TODAY Sports

Despite the fact that the Braves were able to mount an eighth-inning rally and were in position to win, Atlanta was unable to hold Washington at bay in the ninth, and ended up losing their Opening Day encounter with the Nationals by the score of 4-3.

The offensive fireworks started pretty early in this one, as both the Braves and Nationals delivered first-inning homers. The two most obvious candidates for dingers were the ones who ultimately delivered, as Bryce Harper and Freddie Freeman both hit the first two home runs of the contest. It was fortunate that Harper's homer was of the solo variety, since earlier in the at-bat, Teheran was able to get his first pickoff of the season by catching Anthony Rendon sneaking a bit too far away from first base.

Meanwhile, Freeman's home run salvaged what was nearly a pretty uninspiring first inning at the plate for the Braves. Ender Inciarte flew out to lead off, and Erick Aybar grounded out after hilariously swinging at a ball that was probably in the opposite batter's box. Freeman was able to send a 96-mph fastball from Max Scherzer over the right-center field fence for the Braves' first home run of the 2016 season.

After two scoreless innings, both teams resumed scoring in the fourth inning, and once again, the two teams resorted to using the long ball to score their runs. Daniel Murphy led off the fourth inning by sending the first pitch he saw flying over the center field wall to make it 2-1 Washington. Fortunately, the Braves responded in a timely manner when Adonis Garcia crushed a slider from Scherzer and pulled it into the left field bleachers for a solo homer.

That made it 2-2, and it stayed that way until the eighth inning. This was due to the efforts of Julio Teheran, who had himself a solid Opening Day appearance. Teheran finished his day with 6 IP, 4 Ks, 5 Hs, and 2 ERs. It has to be noted that both of the homers he gave up came against lefties, and we know that he struggled pretty mightily against left-handed batters last season, so that's a bit of a concern. Still, the overall performance was good, and the Braves will definitely need more of that going forward.

The eighth inning was when the game turned, and it all started with one of the most improbable occurrences that you could imagine. With one out in the bottom of the eighth, Jeff Francoeur officially made his return to the Braves and received a hero's welcome as he stepped into the batter's box. If that was enough, he worked the count and ended up walking. Yep, you read that right: Jeff Francoeur walked! The rare occurrence ended up sparking the crowd even further and it kicked off a rally. Ender Inciarte singled, and then Freddie Freeman got hit by a pitch to load the bases. That set the stage for Adonis Garcia to face new reliever Shawn Kelley. Kelley proceeded to walk Garcia on four pitches, which allowed Francoeur to score and Turner Field was in a tizzy at that point.

The happy times were short-lived, though, as the Nationals were able to ruin Jason Grilli's return to the mound from an Achilles tear. Grilli walked the first batter he faced and then gave up two consecutive singles to load the bases. Just like that, the Braves' new lead was now under serious threat, but Grilli was able to relieve a tiny bit of pressure by striking out Stephen Drew. Grilli then got Michael Taylor to fly out to shallow center, and the Nationals decided to test Ender Inciarte's arm by sending Jason Werth from third base. This should've been a game-ending mistake because Inciarte's throw home beat Werth to the plate by a mile, but A.J. Pierzynski was unable to hold on to the ball, which meant that instead of the game being over, the specter of extra innings began to loom over today's game. After the Braves went down in order in the bottom of the ninth, we indeed went to extra innings.

Eric O'Flaherty made his return to the Braves in the top of the 10th inning, but his return didn't go as smoothly as Jeff Francoeur's did. He did manage to get Bryce Harper out to start the inning, and appeared to have Ryan Zimmerman out as well, but Gordon Beckham -- who was inserted into the game as a pinch hitter and defensive substitute -- committed a pretty egregious throwing error which allowed Zimmerman to move up to second base. The Braves paid for it when Daniel Murphy doubled to bring in Zimmerman for the go-ahead run. Jim Johnson came in to pick up the final two outs of the inning, but by then the damage was done.

The Braves went down one-two-three in the bottom of the 10th to end the game 4-3 in favor of Washington. During spring training, I predicted that the Braves were probably going to have their fair share of games where the offense comes through in a big way, only to be let down by the pitching and/or defense. This was the case today, as the eighth inning rally ended up being squandered. Game 1 of 162 is in the books, though, and now the Braves have no choice but to focus on a bounce-back effort on Wednesday evening.

Source: FanGraphs