PITTSBURGH -- Ivan Nova did not return for days like this -- 37 degrees, with snow falling as he threw his first pitch -- but the Pirates brought back the veteran right-hander for performances like this. Supported by back-to-back homers in the fifth and a few key defensive plays, Nova tossed six strong innings and led the Bucs to a 5-4 win over the Braves on Friday at their home opener at PNC Park.
Nova looked like the resurgent starter who pitched for Pittsburgh down the stretch last season: efficient, in command and confident in the defense behind him. He limited Atlanta to six hits without a walk and struck out four, getting through six innings on 93 pitches. The only run he allowed was unearned, as it came after Gregory Polanco dropped a fly ball in left field.
"If you ask me who's a pro in this clubhouse, it's Ivan Nova," third baseman David Freese said. "He showed it today."
The Braves pulled within one by putting up three runs in the eighth, two of them on a single to center by Brandon Phillips, but the Pirates' defense made sure the rally stopped there.
Braves starter Mike Foltynewicz limited the Pirates to one run after they put runners at the corners with one out in the third inning, but the young hurler exited after issuing consecutive two-out walks to load the bases in the fourth. Eric O'Flaherty ended that threat by getting Polanco to fly out to center field.
"When [O'Flaherty] got Polanco to fly out with the bases loaded, I thought, 'We're going to win the game,'" Braves manager Brian Snitker said. "That was exactly my thought. Then we gave up the two homers. You want to keep the game in check there, and we couldn't do that. But we came back and had another couple chances."
MOMENTS THAT MATTERED Great escapes: Nova ran into trouble in the fourth inning. Freddie Freeman and Matt Kemp singled, and Nick Markakis was hit by a pitch to load the bases with one out. Phillips got ahead of Nova, three balls and no strikes, but Nova battled back into the count. Phillips rolled over the sixth pitch of the at-bat, a 93.1-mph sinker, and Jordy Mercer scooped it up, stepped on second and fired to first baseman Josh Bell for the inning-ending double play.
"Don't panic. Just stay aggressive. Make pitches," Nova said. "Don't be afraid to work behind in the count. Make a quality pitch and get the out."
That effort was outdone when Josh Harrison and Mercer thwarted the Braves' eighth-inning rally with another double play. With Phillips on first, Adonis Garcia smashed a grounder that nicked Daniel Hudson. Harrison made a sensational stop and flipped the ball to Mercer, who quickly spun and connected with first baseman John Jaso to complete the 4-6-3 double play.
"It gets momentum on our side. It's a big play in the game, obviously," Mercer said. "You can feel the momentum shift right there." More >
Back-to-back jacks: The Braves cut the Pirates' lead in half in the fifth inning, capitalizing on Polanco's error, but the Bucs immediately pushed back with a pair of homers. The most glaring issue facing Pittsburgh's lineup this season, particularly without Jung Ho Kang, is a lack of power. But Freese and Cervelli showed plenty of it against right-hander Josh Collmenter. Freese launched a 405-foot solo shot into the Braves' bullpen with an exit velocity of 100 mph, according to Statcast™. Cervelli answered with a 391-foot blast into the left-field seats, matching his 2016 home run total (one) and giving Pittsburgh a three-run lead.
"The way it happened, it happened. I'm not going to regret anything out there. I pitched my butt off for a majority of the game. I just need to make better pitches next time. It's a matter of inches out there. No worries." -- Foltynewicz, who allowed two earned runs on six hits and three walks over 3 2/3 innings
"Andrew's a good hitter. Andrew was ready to hit in the box. He got some balls he felt he could barrel and swung very aggressively. He worked in the zone aggressively. Good looks at pitches. Good day in the box for him. Helped us." -- Pirates manager Clint Hurdle on Andrew McCutchen, who went 3-for-4 with a walk and an RBI after going hitless in Boston to begin the season
SOUND SMART WITH YOUR FRIENDS
The Pirates won their fourth straight home opener, having beaten the Cubs in 2014, the Tigers in '15 and the Cardinals last year. The last time the Bucs secured four straight home-opening victories was 1960-63; the fourth win in that stretch was also against the Braves, who were then based in Milwaukee.
CROSS YOUR FINGERS
Kemp extended his early-season success with his third straight multihit game, but immediately after recording a single in the sixth inning, he exited with a tight right hamstring that worsened when he made a diving catch to rob Harrison of a hit in the fifth inning. Kemp is 8-for-16 with four doubles and two home runs through four games. There's a chance he'll play on Saturday. More >
Freese left the game after eight innings due to soreness around his collarbone. He was hit by Dansby Swanson's hard-hopping grounder to lead off the eighth inning but stayed in to finish the frame. Freese said he is sore but otherwise "all right." He will be evaluated on Saturday.
"I think I would have ducked if I had enough time," Freese said. "It was kind of a topspin shot, just hopped up. Tried to get a glove on it, just didn't have time."
WHAT'S NEXT Braves:R.A. Dickey will make his Braves debut when this three-game series against the Pirates resumes on Saturday at 7:05 p.m. ET. This will be the knuckleballer's first appearance for a National League team since he won the Cy Young with the Mets in 2012.
Pirates: Right-hander Chad Kuhl, who had been scheduled to start Thursday's postponed game at Fenway Park, will instead make his season debut on Saturday night at PNC Park against the Braves, with first pitch at 7:05 ET. Kuhl is looking to improve on a solid rookie season in which he went 5-4 with a 4.20 ERA over 14 starts.