Swanson and sage: Braves hit 'turning point'

April 27th, 2021

ATLANTA -- If has enough sage to last the remainder of this season, the Braves should have a lot of fun over the next five-plus months.

Looking to erase any of the lingering negative energy created during Sunday’s miserable doubleheader, Swanson returned to Truist Park on Monday afternoon and did some cleansing by burning sage throughout the clubhouse and beyond.

“He told me he was going to do it yesterday, if he could find some,” Braves first baseman said. “I walked into the clubhouse today and it definitely smelled like sage.”

Did it work?

Well, the Braves erupted during a four-run first inning, and then used home runs by Swanson and Freeman to propel themselves to a rejuvenating 8-7 win over the Cubs.

“That’s my first experience with it,” manager Brian Snitker said. “He had to put it right under my nose because I’m so clogged up with the pollen and everything. I couldn’t even smell it. I’ll plant some of it.”

We’ll see what kind of long-standing powers burning sage might have for Atlanta. But the practice at least gave the Braves some laughs and peace as they distanced themselves from what they experienced on Sunday, when they were shut out in two games against the D-backs and became the first team in MLB history to total as few as one hit in a doubleheader.

“All year I've come in like, ‘Hey y'all, if it gets to a point, I'm bringing some sage in here,'” Swanson said. “I think yesterday it was finally to that point. I pretty much walked every bit of area that you could find in this place. It was fun.”

The sage seemingly had a fast-acting effect. An offense that has slumbered over the past week needed just 12 pitches in the series opener to best its run and hit totals from Sunday’s seven-inning doubleheader.

sparked the early uprising with a double, which was just his second extra-base hit of the season, and capped it with an RBI double. The Braves tallied four hits in the first inning while sending their entire lineup to the plate to face Zach Davies.

“I don't know if [the sage] works,” Freeman said. “But it's just more of a mental thing, and a fun thing to try and forget about yesterday. The good thing about yesterday is [that] the only way we could go is up.”

Other than seemingly doing something incredible on a daily basis, before he strained an abdominal muscle on April 18, there hasn’t been any reason to get excited about the Braves' offense. Freeman’s bid to win a second straight National League MVP Award has been slowed by a lot of bad luck.

But there wasn’t anything unlucky about the decisive three-run homer he hit off Brandon Workman in the fifth. The veteran first baseman turned on a 93.2-mph inside fastball and watched it travel 379 feet into the Chop House. His sixth homer of the season helped improve his batting average to .208 and his OPS to .825.

“No one has really been consistent on the offensive side,” Freeman said. “Hopefully, that’s the turning point tonight.”

Freeman’s home run was the decisive blow delivered by the Braves, who saw cruise through the first two innings and then allow Kris Bryant’s game-tying grand slam in the third. The Cubs also made things interesting when Willson Contreras hit a monstrous two-run homer off Tyler Matzek in the seventh.

But Monday night would not have another frustrating conclusion for the Braves, who found the mood quite light as they prepared for the game within the sage-filled clubhouse.

“I didn't know that was gonna happen,” Morton said. “I just heard about it. But, yeah, the energy tonight was great.”

Swanson and Mallory Pugh, his girlfriend and a member of the United States women’s soccer team, burned sage when they recently moved into a new house. So, this wasn’t the first time he did this. And it won’t be the last, considering that his third-inning solo homer highlighted what was just his third multihit game of the season.

“I might have to bring some tomorrow too,” Swanson said.