NEW YORK – The start of April has been a lot like the end of September for the Atlanta Braves.
For six innings, Sunday’s series finale against the New York Mets resembled the first two games. After falling behind by seven runs, the Braves finally got their offense going late but it wasn’t enough to prevent a 7-5 loss.
Atlanta is 0-3 for the first time since opening against Montreal in 2003 and only the second time since losing its first 10 games in 1988.
“It’s never good to come into the season and get swept,” catcher Brian McCann said. “Nobody in here is thinking about last year.”
In case anyone forgot, the Braves had a 10½-game lead over St. Louis for the NL wild card in late August last year but went 9-18 in September and were eliminated on the final night of the regular season.
In the series against the Mets, the Braves hit .151 with seven runs and 14 hits.
“We’re fine,” manager Fredi Gonzalez said. “Four or five of those hits together, and we’ll be fine.”
Mike Minor (0-1), who impressed the Braves by throwing 14 consecutive scoreless innings in his first four spring training starts, gave up six runs, six hits and four walks in five-plus innings.
“I felt good. One little hiccup that just kept on escalating,” Minor said. “It’s early. There’s plenty of season, plenty of games left.”
Overpowering the Braves with a fastball that reached 93 mph, Jonathon Niese (0-1) benefited early from the wide strike zone of plate umpire Phil Cuzzi, who called out Michael Bourn and Martin Prado on strikes as Niese fanned the side in the third.
McCann didn’t think the strike zone was as big for Minor.
“There were some very close calls that didn’t go his way,” he said.
Niese took a no-hit bid into the seventh and retired 15 straight batters before Dan Uggla walked on 10 pitches and Freddie Freeman singled cleanly to right. Pitching for the first time since the Mets gave him a $25.5 million, five-year deal, Niese allowed just two balls out of the infield through six innings. Freeman singled on his 99th pitch.
Niese lasted just two more batters. Right fielder Lucas Duda, looking into a sunny, cloudless sky, dropped Matt Diaz’s fly ball for a run-scoring error that made it 7-1, and Jason Heyward chased Niese with a two-run double. Pinch-hitter Jack Wilson added a sacrifice fly off Manny Acosta.
McCann, who had been 0 for 10 in the series, homered in the eighth over the newly pulled-in fence in right, a ball that likely would have been a flyout in previous seasons at Citi Field.
“Nobody wants to go 0 for series,” Gonzalez said. “Glad to see people getting going.”
New York is 3-0 for the first time since opening with four wins in 2007. The Mets have a .320 batting average and a 1.67 ERA.
“We’re excited – 3-0, man. You can’t draw it up any better than that,” Daniel Murphy said.
Ruben Tejada had a career-best four hits, and Frank Francisco became the first Mets reliever with saves in his first three games.
Before a crowd of 27,855 on Easter Sunday, more than 14,000 short of capacity, sacrifice flies by David Wright in the first and Duda in the fourth built a lead. Murphy hit a two-run double in the fifth, and the Mets made it 7-0 in the sixth on Scott Hairston’s RBI double against Cristhian Martinez and Tejada’s two-run double.
Niese allowed four runs – two earned – and two hits in six-plus innings with seven strikeouts and two walks.
“What we need to do is put together some really good at-bats,” McCann said. “We feel like in the course of the full season we’ll pull our weight.”