ATLANTA -- If this proves to be a season in which the Braves exceed expectations with a mixture of talented youth and proven veterans, then their journey began in fitting fashion, with a valiant comeback from a group that seems to enjoy overcoming adversity.
Down five runs to another club looking to be this year's Cinderella, the Braves saw Freddie Freeman, Ozzie Albies and Nick Markakis power them to their largest Opening Day comeback victory in the modern era. Markakis' first career walk-off homer provided a celebratory finish to an 8-5 win over the Phillies on Thursday at SunTrust Park.
"Emotions are running," Markakis said. "It's a good win for the team and a good win for the city. We just have to go with it."
Even the stoic Markakis cracked a slight smile when asked to confirm the two-out ninth-inning homer off Phillies closer Hector Neris was his first game-ending home run. The veteran right fielder has gone through the entire portion of this rebuild with Freeman, who got the Braves rolling with his two-run homer in the sixth off left-handed reliever Hoby Milner.
"When Freddie hit that homer, I think that's really all it took," Braves left fielder Preston Tucker said. "That was the first ball we really laid into. People fed off that, and good things happened after that."
• Freeman ignites Braves' offense in win
As Julio Teheran made his Atlanta-record fifth consecutive Opening Day start, he found himself in a pitchers' duel with Aaron Nola through the first five innings. A Rhys Hoskins first-inning RBI double accounted for the game's only run until Cesar Hernandez tagged Teheran for a homer to begin a four-run sixth inning that gave the Phillies a 5-0 lead and created what proved to be premature concern about Atlanta's bullpen.
• Hernandez hits first Phils homer for second straight year
"We are all very competitive people," Phillies manager Gabe Kapler said. "It's difficult to lose on Opening Day like that. I also believe in the long view we have. We had an incredible camp with an incredible amount of positive energy. I expect our club to come back tomorrow with that same degree of positive energy. This is going to be one baseball game out of 162 baseball games, and I am still extremely confident that we have the pieces to win a ton of them."
Making his managerial debut, Kapler said he didn't regret limiting Nola to just 68 pitches. But the Braves were certainly appreciative of the chance to face somebody other than the right-hander, who surrendered just two hits and allowed four balls to be hit out of the infield before his 5 1/3-inning outing ended with Ender Inciarte's leadoff double and an Albies flyout to right to open the sixth.
"Once they took him out, it was kind of a jolt for us," Freeman said. "You wanted to come back. Once they took out a guy like that, it gave us a bolt of energy. Just getting the first couple runs was huge. Then Ozzie restarting the offense for us with the home run was huge."
MOMENTS THAT MATTERED
Small ball: Markakis' game-ending shot into the right-center-field seats was one of three homers the Braves hit over the final four innings. But the decisive ninth was fueled by the leadoff infield single by Charlie Culberson, who then advanced to second base on Inciarte's sacrifice bunt. Neris issued a two-out intentional walk to Freeman to get to Markakis.
"I like letting Ender hit," Snitker said. "But you have to realize if Ender gets a good bunt down, with his speed, we could be first and second with nobody out right there easy. I just feel like we need to play that game."
But the Braves' bullpen rebounded, as Sam Freeman struck out Knapp with two on in the eighth, and closer Arodys Vizcaino struck out each of the three batters faced in the ninth.
"This was a total team effort," Freeman said. "Everybody contributed. Those kinds of games are fun to be a part of."
"I screamed. I'm glad I didn't punch a hole through the TV." -- Snitker on the walk-off homer, which he watched on television after being ejected for objecting to a check-swing call in the ninth
"I'm going to continue to show a high degree of confidence in our entire bullpen. I think it's a major strength of our club, and it's really nice to be able to go to those guys. Look, tonight, the decisions didn't work out in our favor. But I'm very confident that over a long period of time, they will." -- Kapler
SOUND SMART WITH YOUR FRIENDS
Albies has a team-high five homers over the 79 at-bats he has tallied dating back to Sept. 12. Freeman and Kurt Suzuki have both hit four home runs during this span.
The Braves lead the Majors with 38 wins in their final at-bat dating back to May 17, 2016, when Snitker became the team's manager.
Phillies: Phillies right-hander Nick Pivetta pitches the second game of this three-game series Friday night against the Braves at SunTrust Park at 7:30 p.m. ET. Pivetta posted a 6.02 ERA in 26 starts last season, but the Phillies saw a better pitcher in the second half and see a pitcher primed to break out in a big way.
Braves:Mike Foltynewicz will take the mound when the Braves and Phillies resume their three-game series Friday. Foltynewicz will display the more compact windup he has developed in an attempt to avoid the inconsistent command that plagued him as he posted a 4.74 ERA over 28 starts last year. .
Watch every out-of-market regular-season game live on MLB.TV.