So, we’re talking to Braves manager Brian Snitker about home runs. Not about his team’s, which have been many and prodigious this season. Ask the Phillies, who left town Thursday night thoroughly tenderized by the Braves bats.
But, no, momentarily, we’re venturing into his own, which were few and far between in four minor league seasons.
“Not enough that I can even remember (the number),” he said. By Baseball Reference’s count, his total was 23. His season high was eight.
Snitker will tell you his memory is foggy about any particular homer. And then proceed to tell you about the one that happened on a Sunday in Orlando in a 1978 Double A game, to center field, that some would say was among the longest hit at the now non-existent Tinker Field. His memory was improving by the second.
“It was on my baseball card, so I said it must be true,” he said.
This man who hardly pinned his faint playing hopes on going yard is now the manager of a team that is riding an almost unprecedented – in these parts – wave of power. These are different times, a different game and obviously different baseballs. The current ones just may glow in the dark and emit a low sinister hum.
Clearly, Snitker couldn’t have made this team. “I couldn’t play for a lot of teams. I was limited by my ability,” he laughed.
This Braves bunch in particular is fearsomely long. These last few months, they have gone deep more often in the National League than any nine professors have in the Ivy League. The team that a long time ago promoted the slogan, “Chicks dig the long ball” has now expanded that sentiment to all genders.
On the recommendation of five home runs Thursday, the Braves beat the now third-place Phillies 12-6. After getting shut out in the first of a high-profile, sold-out three-game series, the Braves decided to go back to the mashing that has become their trademark. That’s eight home runs in these last two nights, and 140 before the All-Star break. That ties the franchise record for homers in advance of the break, with three games against the Marlins to play before the All-Star Game. I like their chances to surpass that little footnote.
How jarring has this evolution from mild-mannered to Herculean been? Well, just four seasons ago the Braves hit 100 home runs – all season.
Taking two-of-three from Philadelphia meant a net gain of one game in the standings on a Phillies team that was practically conceded the NL East when it started throwing around money like it was the fourth branch of government. Going from 5 ½ up to 6 ½ hardly meant that this was a knockout series. But consider it a good, solid money market kind of gain.
It was the way these Braves beat them – using the home run as Joe Frazier once used his left hook – that is bound to leave a mark.
The Braves did not just beat the Phillies these last two nights. They mauled them. They went primeval on the Phils.
Leaving Florida in the spring, Snitker didn’t see a team with such brutish tendencies. How could he? Austin Riley (one of five Braves with at least 15 home runs) hadn’t yet been given his battlefield promotion. Dansby Swanson, who hit two more homers Thursday to push his total to 17, had hit but a total of 23 in his previous two-plus seasons. Who knew Josh Donaldson was going to stay healthy even this long?
“I didn’t really expect that power out of Dansby. And the other guys, too, it’s their second year in the league (as in Ronald Acuna and his 20 home runs and Ozzie Albies and his 14). There is a lot of adjusting going on, both sides, you don’t know what they’re capable of,” Snitker said.
But now here he is with all this power in his back pocket, giving him great comfort. Never much of a companion to him in his playing days, the home run has now practically friended Snitker on Facebook.
So what if the Braves young ace in training Mike Soroka gives up four runs in the first – all on a succession of singles, how last decade? So what if he gave up more hits in that inning than he had in his first eight starts of the year (all going at least five innings)?
“We got nine (innings worth of) at-bats left at that point. I like our chances with that many at-bats,” Snitker said.
It can’t happen every night like this, but Thursday it did: As Soroka gets his legs back beneath him, the Braves come right back with two runs in the bottom of the first on Swanson’s first of two home runs and two more extra-base hits behind him. Albies pushes the Braves into the lead with a three-run homer in the third that traveled 415 feet, above the Chop House in right. Freddie Freeman and Donaldson hit back-to-back jacks the next inning, the 10th time this year the Braves have hit consecutive homers. For emphasis, Swanson hit a three-run blast in the eighth, pushing his RBI total to five for the night.
“How they came back, was pretty much expected, to be honest with you,” their manager said.
Writing about the Braves these days is like trying to do a play-by-play on that part of every home remolding show where they take sledgehammers to a kitchen wall.
Welcome to the thoroughly modern Braves game, where the fans in the outfield seats make more catches than the opposing outfielders in front of them. And if these customers did not bring their gloves to the game, woe to them.
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