The Braves come home and look like themselves again

Braves right fielder Ronald Acuna reacts after he hit a two-run home run in the 5th inning. (Hyosub Shin / Hyosub.Shin@ajc.com)
Caption
Braves right fielder Ronald Acuna reacts after he hit a two-run home run in the 5th inning. (Hyosub Shin / Hyosub.Shin@ajc.com)

Credit: HYOSUB SHIN / AJC

Credit: HYOSUB SHIN / AJC

The Braves’ season commenced eight days before their home opener. It seemed like 80.

Said Freddie Freeman, speaking before Friday’s game: “It felt like we were on the road literally forever.”

Said Brian Snitker: “I woke up that last morning (in Washington, D.C.), and it felt like we’d played a dozen games. We’d played four.”

They’d lost those four, two of those on oppositional walk-offs. They managed one hit over seven innings against Zack Wheeler and lost. They hit four home runs off Max Scherzer and lost. As a reminder that the virus is still with us, they had a game postponed by COVID-19. They’ve suffered the annual Mike Soroka Scare (shoulder, again). They were forced to cover their uniform patches that trumpeted the 2021 All-Star game at Truist Park, the event having undergone an abrupt change of venue.

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They arrived at Truist Park – so far, MLB hasn’t moved any Braves home dates to Colorado – Friday with a 2-4 record. They hadn’t won a nine-inning game, both victories coming in that pandemic oddity – a doubleheader consisting of two seven-inning contests. Breaking news: They’ve won a nine-inning game now.

Said Dansby Swanson: “”It’s a long season. But we’re accustomed to winning. It like, ‘Let’s get the first one.’ And then it’s like, ‘OK, here we go.’”

They’re 3-4, which is the best you can be when you start 0-4. They haven’t allowed a stumbling start to become an abyss, standings-wise. They’ve stopped the rot. And on this homecoming night, they actually hit. They beat the Phillies 8-1.

Said Freeman of the road swing: “It’s pretty amazing we won even two games. … Our offense didn’t do anything.”

In 2020, the Braves led the majors in OPS and were second by one run to the Dodgers in scoring. Through six games in 2021, the Braves were 28th (of 30) in both categories – and last in on-base percentage. Tied for the team lead in homers and RBIs was Pablo Sandoval, who hadn’t started a game. Freeman, the reigning National League MVP, was 2-for-18 with one RBI. Marcell Ozuna, professional hitter, was 2-for-23 with no RBIs and no extra-base hits. Ozzie Albies, professional hitter, began the year 0-for-19.

The only guy hitting his weight was Ronald Acuna, who pretty much won Friday’s game by himself. (OK, Charlie Morton worked six deft innings.) Acuna’s massive two-run homer to center field – it was measured at 456 feet – off the imprecise-on-this-night Wheeler gave the Braves a lead they’d keep. Acuna also had two doubles and an infield single. He also made a splendid catch on Alec Bohm’s liner to right; had that fallen for a hit, Philly would have retaken the lead.

Said Acuna, speaking to Braves TV: “It’s one of the best games I’ve had.” Which is saying something.

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Then it got fun. Ehire Adrianza, the journeyman who posted an OPS of 1.200 in spring training, hoisted a three-run homer to right. (Remember when everyone lamented the state of this bench? That’s three pinch-hit homers in seven games.) Freeman golfed a two-run shot to left. It was nice to be home.

Indeed, it was with a palpable sense of relief that the Braves took the field for the first time since the ballpark was renamed. The final game at what was then known as SunTrust Park was Oct. 9, 2019. (That was the day the Cardinals scored 10 runs in the first.) On Friday, the place was open to patrons – announced attendance: 14,342 – and the gathering seemed massive when placed alongside last season’s cardboard cutouts.

Said Freeman: “We haven’t played in front of our fans in two years. It’s going to feel like a full house. It’s going to be a good day.”

For the MVP, Thursday had been nice, too. “I haven’t been back in Atlanta since October,” he said, and the two months of spring training and the opening road swing took him away from two newborn sons, one of whom has grown in a way FaceTime couldn’t quite capture. “Brandon is three months old. I was shocked at how big he was. He was literally a tank. They’re calling him Big Papi.”

Over at the Snitker household, the manager’s young grandchildren were ready early. “They were wearing their Braves uniforms at 8 a.m.,” Snitker said.

Game time was 7:20 p.m. Hope they got their naps. Though the Braves, finally, made enough noise to rouse any snoozers. Said Snitker, speaking afterward: “It was a great atmosphere. It’s something we’ve missed.”

Said Morton: “It felt like there were a lot more people than there were, and it sounded like it, too.”

Thus has panic been quelled in Braves Country. They’ve won three in a row. They dropped an 8-spot on first-place Philly. They’ll be in first place soon.

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