ATLANTA -- Within a span of a little more than three hours, the Braves distanced themselves from the frustration created by the previous three games and made sure Brian McCann’s much-anticipated homecoming proved both memorable and celebratory.
Ronald Acuña Jr. drilled his first homer of the season and Ozzie Albies produced a pair of key doubles as the Braves rolled to an 8-0 win over the Cubs in their home opener at SunTrust Park on Monday night. But the lasting memory of this evening was created by McCann, who capped a four-run first with a two-run single in his first home at-bat for the Braves since 2013.
“This is something I’ll think about when I’m done playing the game,” McCann said. “To come back home and play in front of the fans was very special for me.”
The sold-out crowd’s enthusiasm provided a sense many fans might have forgotten that the Braves had issued 20 walks and surrendered eight homers while being outscored by twelve runs (23-11) during the season’s first three games in Philadelphia. They cheered Ender Inciarte’s third career leadoff homer and savored seeing Acuna begin the third by crushing a Kyle Hendricks changeup 421 feet into the left-field stands.
But the loudest ovation was offered to McCann, who heard the roar during pregame introductions and as he strolled toward the plate with the Tomahawk Chop serenading him just before he laced a two-run single to right-center field. He immediately glanced toward his older brother, Brad, who was seated a few rows behind the Braves’ on-deck circle.
Long before establishing himself as fan favorite while playing for the Braves from 2005-13, McCann and his brother were suburban Atlanta natives who loved the hometown team. So now that he’s back home, the All-Star catcher is looking forward to creating similar memories for his two children -- 6-year-old son Colt and 5-year-old daughter Colbie -- who are not old enough to remember their dad previously playing for the Braves.
“There’s a lot of reasons to love this game,” Braves third baseman Josh Donaldson said. “I’m happy for him. I’m happy we were able to get a win for him and also for him to have some success.”
Donaldson recorded a pair of singles, including one in the first that helped him score one of the six unearned runs allowed by the Cubs, who committed six errors -- their most in a nine-inning game since 1982. The tone of the game was set in the first inning, when Chicago left fielder Mark Zagunis dropped Inciarte’s fly ball in foul territory. The Braves center fielder hit Hendricks’ next pitch over the right-center-field wall.
Over the three hours that followed, everything seemed to go right for the Braves, who had reason to return to Atlanta late Sunday night feeling like everything had gone wrong in Philadelphia.
“We went to Philly, and those guys played three great games,” McCann said. “We didn’t execute. So to come back and answer like we did tonight and throw a shutout and swing the bats like we did, I think we showed everybody what we’re capable of.”
After Sean Newcomb managed to keep the Cubs scoreless despite allowing six hits and issuing four walks over four-plus innings, the recently maligned Braves bullpen worked five scoreless innings. Wes Parsons induced a key double play in the fifth and enjoyed the postgame beer shower his teammates created to celebrate his first career win.
The Braves' bullpen had allowed the Phillies 10 hits, including five home runs, over just 11 1/3 innings. But Parsons, Jesse Biddle, Chad Sobotka and Arodys Vizcaino combined to allow just three hits while walking none against the Cubs.
“I don’t think we’re lacking in confidence at all,” Biddle said. “Every time one of us gets called on, we all know we have the stuff to answer the bell. It’s just a matter of being consistent, which is what we’re working on.”
When the Braves face left-hander Jon Lester on Wednesday, Albies will move to the top of the lineup. But when the opposition starts a right-hander, he’ll likely continue to hit in the sixth spot, where he did damage on Monday night, going 3-for-4 with two of those hits coming from the left side of the plate.
Albies extended the four-run first with an opposite-field bloop double that was aided by defensive miscommunication. The switch-hitting second baseman doubled again off Hendricks in a two-run fifth and is now 5-for-13 against right-handed pitchers. The early results are encouraging, given he hit .161 with a .492 OPS from the left side after last year’s All-Star break.
“When he gets going like that, [the lineup] can get really long and it can get fun,” Braves manager Brian Snitker said. “He’s been swinging the bat better all spring. If we can get him going, we’ve really got something.”
The ball bounced the Braves way all night, but Donaldson certainly wasn’t anticipating creating a defensive gem at third base when Javy Baez hit a sharp grounder to shortstop Dansby Swanson with two outs in the seventh. Swanson’s scoop attempt propelled the ball toward Donaldson, who scrambled to the ball, barehanded it and made a leaping throw to end the inning.
“I’m always anticipating something happening, whether it’s that or a ball off the pitcher or whatnot,” Donaldson said. “When I saw it coming my way, I just let the instincts take over and I got lucky. I kind of blacked out.”