NEW YORK -- Had Tommy Hanson walked off this same mound eight months ago feeling this good about his right shoulder, the Braves might have never experienced the horrific September collapse that they are attempting to distance themselves from with the dawn of a new season.
Still, even as a healthy Hanson showed glimpses of his potential to be an ace in front of a record crowd at Citi Field on Thursday afternoon, the Braves managed to elicit painful memories of last year's late-season collapse.
Instead of overcoming Hanson's costly sixth-inning mistakes, the Braves squandered multiple scoring opportunities over the final five innings and allowed the Mets to celebrate Johan Santana's return with a 1-0 Opening Day victory.
"We had a couple opportunities to scrape across some runs, but we didn't come through," Braves second baseman Dan Uggla said. "But at least we got this game out of the way. Opening Day is always a lot of fun. But there are always a lot of jitters and butterflies involved. That's all part of it."
Playing for the first time since their 2011 playoff hopes ended with a 13-inning loss to the Phillies in the regular-season finale, the Braves looked a lot like the team that scored two runs or fewer in seven of its final 12 games last year. That string led to the complete evaporation of the 8 1/2-game Wild Card lead the team carried into September.
While recording just four hits and going hitless in six at-bats with a runner in scoring position during the final five innings of this season opener, the Braves did nothing more than squander the first of 162 games and prevent Hanson from enjoying what was a rather encouraging return to the mound.
"It was one run, and sometimes you're going to go out and that will happen," Hanson said. "Sometimes you're going to go out and have a bad game and win. That's just the way it is. I felt like I went out and did my job. I gave us a chance to win."
Hanson traded zeros with Santana through the first five innings and then made his only critical mistakes at the start of the sixth inning. After issuing a leadoff walk to Andres Torres, the 25-year-old right-hander allowed consecutive singles to Daniel Murphy and David Wright.
Wright's single scored Torres with the game's only run and signaled the end of the day for Hanson, who had allowed just two hits through the first five innings. This was his first Opening Day experience and first start since he lasted just 3 1/3 innings against the Mets on Aug. 6. The right shoulder discomfort experienced in that start sidelined him for the final seven weeks of last season.
After pitching around the walk that he issued in both the fourth and fifth innings, Hanson was not able to escape the leadoff walk in the sixth without any damage. He felt he got too much of the plate with the fastball that Murphy hit and wished the sinker to Wright had been lower.
"I felt really good," Hanson said. "I didn't get tired, and my shoulder felt great."
Providing a glimpse of the value he could bring out of the bullpen, Kris Medlen retired three straight batters after entering the sixth with two runners on base and no outs. But the Braves' offense was unable to reward his effort.
The Braves left the bases loaded against Santana in the fifth inning and came up empty after putting two on with one out in the sixth. This trend continued after Tyler Pastornicky recorded his first Major League hit with a one-out, seventh-inning triple off Ramon Ramirez. This prompted the entry of left-handed reliever Tim Byrdak, who killed the threat with consecutive strikeouts of left-handed hitters Jose Constanza and Michael Bourn. Constanza had entered as part of a double switch in the sixth inning.
"We felt like we were going to do something big those last four or five innings," Uggla said. "I think everybody was comfortable. We put together some good at-bats. We just didn't find the holes and maybe just missed a couple pitches here and there."
Martin Prado's one-out, first-inning single stood as the Braves' only hit until Matt Diaz improved his career batting average against Santana to .500 (17-for-34) with a one-out, fifth-inning double.
Santana seemed to be in good position when he gained an 0-2 count against Pastornicky with two outs in the fifth. But he then issued consecutive walks to the patient Pastornicky and Hanson to load the bases.
"I thought we did a great job of being patient with Santana," Braves manager Fredi Gonzalez said. "We just didn't swing the bats."
Having missed all of the 2011 season recovering from left shoulder surgery, Santana knew he would likely not throw more than 90 pitches. As he neared that mark with the bases loaded and the game on the line, he got Bourn to look at a 3-1 fastball on the corner. One pitch later, the Braves' center fielder ended the scoring threat with a chopper back to the mound.
"We can talk about a lot of pitches, but that was one that's him," Collins said of the 3-1 pitch. "He's so good that he knows he's got to make the pitch to get out of the inning, and he makes it to go 3-2. It could have been called a ball, but he wasn't going to throw it down the middle. He's going to make his pitch. All the years that you've seen great pitchers, it's a knack that they have."
Mark Bowman is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.