Jason Heyward ready to play
His face and head covered in shaving cream and his first home run
ball stashed safely away, Jason Heyward stood in front of his
locker and beamed.
“I had a blast,” he said.
He stole the show on Opening Day.
Minutes after catching the ceremonial first pitch from Hank
Aaron, Heyward hit a three-run homer in his first major league
at-bat to spark the Braves to a 16-5 opening win Monday over Carlos
Zambrano and the Chicago Cubs.
Heyward, who also had a run-scoring single in the eighth, was
2 for 5 with four RBIs.
“It was the first of many career highlights for him,” said
Atlanta’s Chipper Jones. “That was impressive, that was very
Braves fans in the sellout crowd eagerly embraced Heyward,
from Henry County, about 30 minutes south of Atlanta.
Fans chanted “Let’s go, Heyward!” as he confidently took two
pitches in his first-inning at-bat, then sent a fastball from
Zambrano into the Braves’ bullpen behind the right-field wall on
his first swing, sending the crowd over the top.
“I don’t know that I’ve ever heard this stadium that loud,”
Added Heyward when asked how he felt as he ran around the
bases: “I felt my legs but I couldn’t hear myself think, it was so
After the game, Braves reliever Peter Moylan crept behind a
crowd of reporters and hit the rookie with a towel full of shaving
“I guess shaving cream is a good thing,” Heyward said with a
Yunel Escobar drove in a career-high five runs as Zambrano
gave up eight runs in 1 1-3 innings, matching the shortest of 239
Marlon Byrd, playing his first game with the Cubs, hit a
three-run homer in the first inning and Aramis Ramirez added a
two-run drive in the third.
Derek Lowe (1-0) gave up five runs, five hits and three walks
in six innings before a sellout crowd of 53,081, a record for a day
game in Atlanta and was the fourth-largest overall in Atlanta
Brian McCann hit a homer in the second, when the Braves
knocked out Zambrano (0-1), but opening day belonged to Heyward.
“He’s good,” Zambrano said. “Anybody can be good with two
balls and no strikes, but you have to give him credit.”
The 20-year-old Heyward became the sixth Braves player to
homer in his debut, the fourth to do so in his first plate
appearance. Jordan Schafer also did it last season.
Heyward answered cheers from the fans by tipping his cap at
the edge of the dugout.
Heyward (6-foot-5, 240) won the starting job in right field
despite playing only 50 games above Class A in his quick rise
through the minor leagues. He was selected baseball’s top prospect
by Baseball America after hitting .323 with 17 homers and 63 RBIs
at three minor league stops in 2009, and was put on the major
league roster by the Braves just last Saturday.
“Jason had a spectacular day, really,” said Braves manager
Bobby Cox. “He’ll have his struggles, probably, like any other
20-year-old in the big leagues, but he’s a very talented kid. And
when he’s not hitting, he’s going to help us in the outfield. He’s
a very gifted athlete.”
Atlanta sent 10 batters to the plate in both the first and
“It was something of an embarrassing loss,” said Cubs
manager Lou Piniella. “Never did I anticipate we’d give up 16 runs
on Opening Day, not in my wildest dreams.”
In the first, Chipper Jones drove in Melky Cabrera when his
shallow fly ball fell between shortstop Ryan Theriot and Byrd in
center for a single. Escobar added a two-run single before
Heyward’s line-drive homer.
Making his sixth straight opening day start for the Cubs,
Zambrano gave up six hits and two walks with one strikeout.
“I left some pitches over the middle,” Zambrano said. “When
you do that at this level, you’re going to get crushed.”
Braves center fielder Nate McLouth made running catches of
drives hit by Ramirez in the first and Derrek Lee in the fifth.
McLouth was credited with a diving catch of a ball hit by Byrd in
the left-center gap in the sixth, though a replay showed the ball
popped out of McLouth’s glove when he hit the ground.
As umpires called out Byrd, McLouth threw the ball back to
Escobar, whose throw to first base forced out Ramirez.
Piniella argued the ruling that McLouth made the catch. The
umpires huddled but did not overturn the original call.
Escobar had a three-run double, and pinch-hitter Eric Hinske
added a run-scoring triple off Jeff Samardzija in the seventh.
Samardzija walked three batters in the six-run inning.
Six Chicago pitchers combined for eight walks.
“The thing that was so upsetting was we didn’t walk people in
spring training,” Piniella said. “I complimented our pitchers on
Right-hander Takashi Saito and left-handed closer Billy
Wagner pitched perfect innings in their Atlanta debuts to end the
NOTES: McCann received his 2009 Silver Slugger award before the
game. … New Cubs owner Tom Ricketts and his brother, Todd,
attended the game. … Sean Marshall had five strikeouts in 2 2-3
perfect innings behind Zambrano. … Zambrano also lasted only 1
1-3 innings against Pittsburgh on Sept. 4, 2006. … The other
Braves to homer in their first plate appearances were Joe
Harrington (1895); Johnny Bates (1906) and Jermaine Dye