A stampede of desperate, panicked fans looting every gas station market on U.S. 41 in Cobb County has been averted.
The number of Atlanta teams coming off a big 2018 that couldn’t win a one-pingpong-ball lottery now has been cut in half (a hint as to the other — think Millennial kickball).
True, this is a complete over-reaction to a single Braves victory, the first of a long, long season. But it seems only fair that if the world is going start crumbling after three losses at the front end of the schedule, there should at least be some hyperbole spent on an 8-0 win that helps turn the mood, if even for just one day.
There was great comfort in Monday’s home opener.
There was Ronald Acuña’s first home run of the new season, smote with the utter conviction of a true clean-up hitter.
That lead-off hitter wasn’t too shabby either, Ender Inciarte setting tone with a home run of his own with the Braves first meaningful at-bat inside SunTrust of 2019.
There was one of the most emotionally satisfying at-bats yet in this young stadium when catcher Brian McCann drove in a pair of runs with a single in his first at-bat back home after five seasons away. His wife and two children greeted him on the walk into the stadium, through the masses, a la the Dawg Walk. His parents were in the stands. McCann locked eyes with his brother and hitting coach Brad, immediately after the two-RBI single.
“I was here for a long time (a Brave for nine years before wandering off to New York and Houston). I’m home grown. I’ve lived in Atlanta my whole life. It meant a lot to me,” McCann said.
“This is one of those moments I’ll think about when I’m done playing the game. To come back home and play in front of these fans, it’s very special to me,” he added. The only unpleasantness came behind the plate, catching, taking a foul ball off one of the sensitive parts. But McCann was willing to suffer that for the reward.
“There are a lot of reasons to love this game,” said McCann’s new teammate Josh Donaldson, pointing to the hometown catcher’s reception as Exhibit A.
Also Monday, there was the reminder that not everyone in baseball is as currently buttoned down as the Braves opening opponent, the Phillies. The Chicago Cubs arrived as the perfect homecoming opponent, bumblers of the first degree. As they committed their six errors on this night — the Braves gratefully struck for four unearned runs in the first and in all, six of their runs were unearned — there was no hiding the fact that the Cubs spent all spring indoors, watching the Three Stooges and supergluing their fingers together. How else to explain so many balls thrown so randomly around an infield?
There was what has now become the classic Sean Newcomb start, which can be described as effectively maddening. Newcomb expended 91 pitches in just four innings trying to find the strike zone, walking four, striking out three and yielding six hits. He’s still throwing like he thinks he gets paid by the hour. Yet the Cubs did not score, and a win is a win, and that is plenty for this night.
And, finally, let us not overlook one small development in the box score: Two hits in Donaldson’s column. They raised his batting average 109 points, to an even .200.
It’s not a law or anything that a big-number free agent has to come to his new team and immediately turn tides, win hearts and leave at least seven fans treated and released for injuries suffered in the mad rush to buy his jersey.
They’re human, you know. Just really, really rich humans. Thus the rest of us tend to expect great deeds daily, to match the salary.
Donaldson was the one extravagance Braves management allowed itself (at one year, $23 million). So, do something big and free-agently, already. In the midst of a difficult start for the Braves, Atlanta might well turn its eyes to the highest-paid player to provide the spark of creation.
If that sounds impatient, that’s because it is. The runup to 2019 featured other teams around the Braves division throwing around money like so many malfunctioning ATMs. If Donaldson is even a partial answer to that, he has to pay off.
Monday, in his first-ever appearance at SunTrust (Donaldson hit .167 with one home run in six games at Turner Field), he singled in his first two at-bats. He is not paid $23 million to hit singles, but for a fellow who went 1-for-11 in Philadelphia, that represents a dramatic upward tick.
A good Auburn man, he still considered the War Eagles first trip to the Final Four to rank far larger than a two-hit game in his Atlanta debut. “I’ve had many games where I’ve had multiple hits but for them to be able to go for the first time to the Final Four — I’m so happy for what that team has done, what they’ve overcome,” he said.
The Braves already had been on the receiving end of deep and immediate free agent impact. Donaldson’s struggles were played out against both Bryce Harper and Andrew McCutchen hitting a pair of home runs for the Phillies last weekend.
“I got to mix some singles in there too,” Donaldson said with a smile. “I’ve had some years where I’ve come out and hit for power right off the bat, and some years where I kind of have to work into it. The first series against Philly, I felt like they did a great job pitching to me. Today, I knew the guy on the mound (Cubs starter Kyle Hendricks), he wants you to go up there swinging for the fences so he can take advantage of your aggressiveness. I was just going to take what he gave me and if it was a single, I just wanted to try to hit the ball hard as much as possible.”
So all is right and bright with the world today, overreact to your heart’s content. And then take a deep breath.
The Braves have won. The Braves have won.
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