When did it first hit you that there were fans in the building?
During player introductions? The booing for Bryce Harper? The crowd pop when Ronald Acuña Jr. launched a ball into orbit that put the Braves up for good? The seventh inning stretch? When the final out of the 8-1 win over the Phillies was recorded?
For me, it was a really small moment in the first inning. Charlie Morton was getting ready to throw a 1-2 pitch to Harper to the tune of…applause? People rising to their feet? In early April? That kind of anticipation for a first inning pitch is usually reserved for game seven of a postseason series, not game seven of the regular season.
But even with two-thirds of the ballpark empty and nobody on base in the first inning of a 0-0 game, the crowd was ready for the strikeout. Morton obliged by dotting a fastball at the bottom of the strike zone that sent Harper back to the dugout, and it finally registered with me that fans were in the ballpark.
The phrase “back to normal” was thrown around a lot today with fans returning to the ballpark, but this was the opposite. That was an abnormal moment for an April game.
And in this case, the abnormal was a welcome sight.
- Let’s be real. The Braves could have lost this game 8-1 and this positive would still stick. There was a baseball game at Truist Park with fans. I could spend 2,000 words just talking about all the little things I missed about watching baseball games with fans in the crowd, but there really is no need. You know why this was such a monumental night, and you are more than aware of how long you waited for it. Embrace it for everything it was.
- Charlie Morton allowed just four hits in six innings and struck out seven, but his biggest contribution of the game was on offense. The entire complexion of the game changed when he led off the fifth inning with a single. It was another night of frustration and bad BABIP luck through four and a half innings. But when Charlie turned the tables on Zack Wheeler from last Saturday and smoked a base hit into right? It was game on at that point. It was like he said “If I can hit this guy, y’all definitely can too” and the Braves ripped off eight unanswered runs from there.
- Remember last season when Acuña got off to a miserable start and everyone panicked? He clearly decided he was sick of that and isn’t even giving off the illusion of struggles this season. Four more hits for the phenom tonight, including a 456-foot blast in the fifth inning that ended up being the game-winning hit. He is currently hitting .393 with an OPS at 1.290. You might say that’s unsustainable for 162 games, but what I would counter with is that maybe these are his early season struggles and he’s about to hit .450 with 75 homers. It could happen!
- And I would be remiss not to mention Acuña’s running catch in the sixth inning that saved two runs. If that ball drops the game is 3-3, Morton leaves the game right there and it could have turned any number of directions. The Phillies had the go-ahead run at the plate there, and it was 6-1 next time they got another chance to hit.
- And how did it get from 3-1 to 6-1? Ehire Adrianza hit the third (!!!) pinch hit home run of the season. It’s also worth remembering he started that at-bat by failing to lay down a bunt. Let that be a lesson to managers everywhere: Don’t bunt. Hit Dingers.
- Morton has pitched 11 innings this season and only allowed 10 hits. He has struck out 12 batters and only walked three. His curveball flows as smoothly as the chocolate in Willy Wonka’s river. His fastball has a thumbtack sharpness through two starts. He also might be the third best pitcher in the starting rotation when Mike Soroka gets back. The dominoes are going to have to fall correctly for six months, but this has the potential to be the best starting rotation the Braves have had since the days of Maddux-Glavine-Smoltz if everyone stays healthy.
- There is something very satisfying about symmetry in baseball. Six days ago Morton faced Wheeler in a pitcher’s duel that was broken open when Wheeler got a clutch hit off Morton in the fifth inning. Tonight Morton got a clutch hit off Wheeler in the fifth inning to spur his team on to a win. Perfectly balanced, as all things should be.
- Freddie Freeman has now hit five home runs in home openers in his career, passing Dale Murphy for the most in Atlanta Braves history. He has gone deep in the home opener in 2013, 2016, 2018, 2020 and now 2021. It’s obviously an extremely niche stat, but it’s yet another leaderboard Freddie sits at the top of. Watch out for a charging Acuña though, who already has two homers in his three career home openers.
- I’m giving this segment an off night. We have 155 more games to pick apart every little thing that goes wrong. An 8-1 win in the home opener is grounds for just ignoring the bits and bobs that weren’t quite perfect and moving on.
Former Brave Of The Day:
Tonight was a monumental night in baseball history; the only team in the league without a no-hitter finally checked that box after 52 years thanks to San Diego Padres starter Joe Musgrove. His battery mate? 2013 Atlanta Braves draft pick Victor Caratini.
Quote Of The Game:
“Ray, people will come.”
— Terence Mann, Field of Dreams
Ian Anderson will pitch in front of fans in Atlanta for the first time in his career tomorrow night. Hopefully he can duplicate his results from the first time he pitched in the majors last season and keep the Phillies at bay.