Opening Day of the 2021 season is going to be one that the Braves are going to want to forget, as the Phillies dinked-and-dunked their way into a 3-2 victory over Atlanta to start off the brand-new baseball season.
The early story of this game centered around Max Fried’s struggle to get through five innings while also keeping the Braves in the game. Things got off to an inauspicious start in the very first inning, as Fried found himself in a bases loaded situation almost immediately. There were definitely concerns that this was going to be a rough day for Fried when two of those baserunners reached via walk to Bryce Harper and a first-pitch HBP against J.T. Realmuto. So it was a huge relief to see Fried get out of the first inning with Philadelphia only scoring a sacrifice fly.
Fried found himself in a similar mess once the third inning rolled around. Rhys Hoskins and Bryce Harper both got on base with a double and single, respectively — which resulted in Hoskins scoring on an absolute dribbler of a ground ball from Realmuto. Harper tried to stretch the hit into another base, but Austin Riley managed to tag him on his lower leg to get the lead runner out. Fried then struck out Didi Gregorius to once again escape what could’ve been a big Philly inning with only minor damage.
For a while, it seemed as if all of the luck was going Philadelphia’s way in this one. On the very first pitch of the game, Ronald Acuña Jr. absolutely smoked one to left field. While this seemed like a great chance to make fun of Chip Caray for getting fooled on yet another fly ball, the wind really did Acuña no favors whatsoever in killing the ball at the warning track. Dansby Swanson was also robbed of a big hit in the very next inning, as he crushed one that seemed destined to clear the fence in left field. Instead, it died at the warning track and the Braves were left disappointed once again.
While this was going on, Realmuto’s aforementioned RBI single clocked in at a blazing Exit Velocity of 61.6 miles-per-hour. While the Braves were hitting bullets all around the diamond, the Phillies were finding holes with the softest of contact and getting rewarded for it. So while Max Fried may not have had his best stuff on display today, he was still doing well to make sure that the Phillies weren’t teeing off on him and he was still able to get out of jams by relying on strikeouts. Fried finished the day with eight strikeouts and only two runs allowed over five innings, which is totally acceptable considering the conditions and the fact that both Mother Nature and the baseball gods were seemingly conspiring against him with the conditions and the luck, respectively.
The Phillies held on to their two-run lead until the seventh inning. Up until that point, Aaron Nola was having yet another good day against the Braves with no signs of slowing down. Indeed, he picked up the first two outs of the second with little-to-no issue and was primed to take his Opening Day stint all the way into the eighth inning. Then Cristian Pache chipped away at Nola’s armor with a lucky broken-bat double to center field. That set the stage for Pablo Sandoval to make his first appearance of this new season. The Braves may have been getting robbed all day up to that point when it came to balls being put in play, but Sandoval did not get cheated out of anything when he turned around on a fastball from Nola and deposited it into the seats in right field. Just like that, the game was tied and the Braves at least had something to show for all of the hard contact that they had been making all day.
From that point forward, things went right back into a mode of frustration for the Braves’ lineup. They couldn’t take advantage of an effectively-wild Jose Alvarado in the eighth inning, and Ozzie Albies was robbed of a two-out single in the ninth inning by an unbelievable catch from Didi Gregorius. Meanwhile, Atlanta’s bullpen worked admirably to keep the Phillies at bay for the latter stages of the game. It was definitely encouraging to see Will Smith carry over his spring training form into an especially strong regular season debut. It’s still early, but this is exactly what the Braves expected from Will Smith after signing him ahead of the 2020 season.
The game eventually went to extra innings, and the tenth inning basically summed up the game in a nutshell. When the Braves had their turn with a runner on second to kick things off, Freddie Freeman moved Ozzie over with a productive out. Marcell Ozuna came up to the plate and hit a somewhat shallow fly ball to Roman Quinn in center field. While it was questionable for Ozzie to run, you have to figure that he would’ve made it if he had been running at full speed from the moment he left third base. Unfortunately, he made a little bit of hesitation on his way to home plate and Quinn’s throw was on the money for the third out.
The Phillies started off the 10th in identical fashion, and Jean Segura blooped one that just barely made it out of Austin Riley’s reach to bring in Bryce Harper from third base to end the game. It was a day of frustration for the Braves, and the Phillies winning the game on a hit that had an xBA of .130 (while scoring their first run on a sacrifice fly and their second run on a single that had an xBA of .100) was fitting for how this entire game had played out for the Braves.
The good news is that this is only the first game of 162, so there’s nowhere near the sense of urgency that last season’s 60-game sprint had. So there’s a good chance that this could end up being just a minor footnote for the Braves this season. Still, you always want to win on Opening Day just for the good vibes that come with it, so it’s a slight bummer that the Braves went down on Opening Day in such frustrating fashion. Hopefully Saturday holds better luck for the road team as the Braves continue to get things started in 2021.