Heyward, McCann power Braves past Cubs
Phenom homers in first at-bat; Lowe takes Opening Day win
ATLANTA -- While spending the entirety of his 16-year Major League career with the Braves, Chipper Jones has basked in the glory days and taken note that in recent years, Turner Field has become a place where the hometown faithful seems to be drowned out whenever the Red Sox, Yankees or Cubs come to town.
But with Atlanta buzzing about the dawn of a new season and Jason Heyward's introduction to the Major Leagues, the standing-room-only crowd that witnessed the Braves claim a convincing 16-5 Opening Day win over the Cubs at Turner Field on Monday afternoon proved to be a raucous one that evoked memories of those days during the 1990s when Atlanta-Fulton County Stadium was the place to be.
"This has been a place where Cubs fans have felt at home," Jones said. "Today, pregame, I didn't hear them at all. That's something that needs to change, because I feel this team is going to be an exciting team all year long and Atlanta needs to embrace it -- come out support us and have electricity like today, because when it's that electric this team is going to take it to another level."
Many of the 53,081 fans in attendance certainly weren't disappointed to see Heyward live up to the expectations that were intensified as he seemingly created daily headlines during Spring Training. With the first swing of his big league career, the 20-year-old phenom drilled a mammoth three-run homer that capped a six-run first inning against Carlos Zambrano.
"Special people do special things in special moments," Braves starting pitcher Derek Lowe said. "That's what they do. To come to the plate for your first at-bat with the crowd chanting your name, that's pretty special."
After Marlon Byrd provided the Cubs an early lead with his two-out, three-run homer off Lowe in the first inning, the Braves began constructing their six-run first with the help of four singles. Yunel Escobar began his career-best, five-RBI performance with a game-tying, two-run single that set the stage for Heyward, who came to the plate with the hometown faithful chanting his name Yankee Stadium-style.
When asked if he was among those who felt chills when Heyward crushed the decisive three-run homer that followed, Cox nodded his head and then said, "It's like [Braves third base coach Brian] Snitker said, "Was there any doubt that he wasn't going to do that?"
Heyward's crushing blow highlighted a four-RBI performance and made him just the fifth player in franchise history to homer in his Major League debut. But this shot, which traveled an estimated 414 feet, served as just one of the many highlights for the Braves, who set a franchise record for the most runs scored on Opening Day.
"This is an offense that can turn over quickly, that can score runs at the top, the middle and at the bottom," Jones said. "There are only a handful of offenses in all of baseball that can do that."
While winning his second consecutive Opening Day start for the Braves, Lowe rebounded from the first inning and encountered his only other damage in the third inning, when Aramis Ramirez hit a two-run homer into the left-field seats. The veteran sinkerballer was charged with five earned runs and five hits in six innings.
Lowe's line proved to be much more impressive than the one fashioned by Zambrano, who was charged with eight earned runs in 1 1/3-inning effort that matched the shortest of his career. The big Cubs right-hander exited after Brian McCann capped a two-run second-inning with his third career Opening Day homer.
"I felt better," Lowe said in reference to the struggles he encountered down the stretch last year. "The first [home run] was clearly a mistake. It was right down the middle. But with Ramirez, looking back, it was a pitch right where I wanted to throw it. I know he likes the ball inside and we threw the first pitch inside. I thought he'd be looking back away, and I thought wrong."
Ramirez's homer cut the Cubs' deficit to three runs and allowed them to remain in striking distance until Escobar capped his memorable day with a three-run, seventh-inning double off Jeff Samardzija, who had walked each of the three previous batters.
"I definitely think everybody is excited," Heyward said. "This is Atlanta's team as far as baseball goes, and we didn't disappoint today."
As the Braves compiled their early hits off Zambrano, Jones couldn't help but think about his first Opening Day game in 1995, when he and his teammates began the first inning with six straight hits and ended up totaling 12 runs against the Giants.
Six months later that same club was celebrating the only World Series title in Atlanta's history.
"It was eerily similar," Jones said. "That year ended up pretty similar as I recall. If we follow suit, hopefully we'll have another chance to play for it."
Mark Bowman is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.