Many of Atlanta’s home openers have proven to be special
There was the first one that featured six future Hall of Famers (Joe Torre included) and left Tony Cloninger feeling dejected after pitching 13 strong innings. Then there was the one played eight years later when Hank Aaron created one of baseball’s most historical moments with a fourth-inning shot that made him baseball’s true home run king.
There was the one played in 1997, when a young third baseman named Chipper Jones collected the first game-winning RBI in Turner Field history. Three years later, Andres Galarraga returned from a season lost to cancer and teamed with Andruw Jones to hit decisive back-to-back seventh-inning home runs in a 2-1 Opening Day win over the Rockies at The Ted.
Then of course there was that beautiful, sunny afternoon just two years ago, when Jason Heyward added to his legend by electrifying his hometown crowd with a home run on the first swing of his Major League career.
This accounts for just some of the great moments in the history of Atlanta’s home openers. Another could be created tonight, when Jones experiences the last home opener in his storied career.
Jones’ first home opener back in 1995 proved both memorable and nearly disastrous courtesy of the collision he shared with Greg Maddux while chasing a pop fly near the mound
Maddux was anything but entertained when he was cleated and violently knocked to the ground by a hard-charging Jones, who was beginning his era as Atlanta’s third baseman.
With his flip-down glasses in his mouth, Jones looked over at Maddux and immediately thought, “I killed the $15 million dollar man.”
“He cussed me for four innings,” Jones said. “Every time I threw the ball back at him, he just dogged me. It taught me a lesson to play the game under control and not try to do too much.”
Seventeen years later, Jones enters the final season of his career destined to savor the same Hall of Fame enshrinement that awaits Maddux, John Smoltz, Tom Glavine and their former manager Bobby Cox.
Cox will be in attendance tonight, 34 years after making his debut as a Major League manager. So too will the Hall of Fame pitchers — Don Sutton and Phil Niekro — who opposed each other when the beginning of that legendary managerial career began during the 1978 Opening Day game at Atlanta-Fulton County Stadium.
They say you can see something pretty special during a home opener without knowing it was special at the time. Just trying to make Yogi Berra proud.
Instead of aiming to do something special, Jair Jurrjens should simply attempt to do something that provides the Braves some confidence they will be able to rely on him over the next few weeks and months. The concerns he created during his first four Grapefruit League games were slightly minimized when he ended the exhibition season with two strong efforts against a couple less-than-imposing Astros split-squad lineups.
But Jurrjens was less than impressive while lasting just 4 1/3 innings against the Mets during last weekend’s season debut. He needed 42 pitches to record his final four outs and according to Brooks Baseball, the average velocity of his fastball was below 88 mph. The 26-year-old vet thought the chilly conditions prevented him from getting a good feel for his secondary pitches.
In fairness, Mets starter R.A. Dickey also said he found difficulty getting a consistent feel for his knuckleball that afternoon. But regardless the Braves need Jurrjens to start proving that he will not forever be bothered by the bothersome right knee that prevented him from pitching down the stretch both of the past two seasons.
As Spring Training concluded, Jurrjens admitted that his struggles early in the exhibition season were a product of his fear to push off the rubber with normal aggression. Now, he must prove he truly has overcome those fears.
Jurrjens will be opposed tonight by Randy Wolf, who is 5-12 with a 5.24 ERA in 26 career starts against the Braves. Jones has batted .377 (20-for-53) with seven doubles and four homers against Wolf. Other Braves with some success against the veteran southpaw include Brian McCann (5-for-12 with a homer and a double) and Matt Diaz (7-for-19 with seven singles).
It is amazing to think Wolf will be the fifth left-handed pitcher the Braves have seen through the season’s first seven games. At this rate, they will face 115 left-handed starters this year and Michael Bourn will not have a single hit against any of them.
Bourn has gone hitless with four strikeouts and no walks in his first 15 plate appearances of the season against left-handed pitchers. It’s far too early to draw any conclusions from this year’s stats. But this early trend is not too surprising. The veteran leadoff hitter combined to bat .254 with a .294 on-base percentage against left-handed pitchers during the 2010 and 2011 seasons.
Brian McCann (1-for-9 with three strikeouts) and Dan Uggla (1-for-9 with four strikeouts) have also experienced some early trouble against left-handed pitchers. But Jason Heyward (3-for-9), Martin Prado (3-for-10) and Freddie Freeman (3-for-13) have allowed the Braves to enjoy some success against southpaws.
That will do it for today. Get down to the stadium early tonight to enjoy all of the pregame festivities. And if you don’t have a parking pass, take MARTA…It’s Smarta.