WASHINGTON – Fredi Gonzalez was in a cab with some coaches early Thursday morning on their way to the ballpark when his cellphone rang.
It was his old boss, Bobby Cox, aka “The Skipper” to Gonzalez, always.
“He was having coffee, and he called to wish us good luck and to have a good season,” the new Braves manager said of the call from the iconic ex-manager. “And he said he’d be watching the game.”
Someone asked what time Cox called, and Gonzalez smiled.
“He knows the [routine], so when he called he said, ‘Are you guys getting out of the cab?’ I said, we’re right around the corner from the stadium. [Gonzalez laughed]. So we talked for a little bit.”
The Braves beat the Washington Nationals 2-0 on Thursday in the first game of the post-Cox era. The win came in the same city where Gonzalez won his debut as a big-league manager in 2007, when his Marlins beat Manny Acta’s Nationals on opening day in the first matchup between two major league managers of Cuban descent.
Gonzalez’s moves worked Thursday, from his decision to start Derek Lowe on opening day (Lowe got his third straight opening win) to batting Chipper Jones and Brian McCann third and fourth (two hits apiece) and Jason Heyward sixth (home run).
He used his co-closers in the eighth and ninth innings and both Jonny Venters and Craig Kimbrel responded with perfection, Kimbrel striking out the last two batters for the save.
Gonzalez was asked about how it felt to get his first win as Braves manager.
“Obviously you want to win the ballgames, but it doesn’t feel any different,” he said. “A win’s a win. I’m wearing this uniform and wearing it hopefully for a long time time, and [hopefully] we get a lot of wins.”
Freeman hopes to end revolving door
Rookie Freddie Freeman became the 12th different first baseman to start opening day for the Braves in 13 years, and the fifth in the past five years. The Braves expect Freeman to end the revolving door and become a fixture at the position.
“That’s my goal,” said Freeman, who showed his defensive prowess on a couple of outstanding plays. “I’m going to work hard and hopefully I can stay here.”
When asked if he’d like to be the first baseman for a few years, he smiled and said, “Hopefully many more than that.”
The only first baseman to start more than one opening day for the Braves in the past 13 years was Adam LaRoche, who did it in 2005 and 2006. Coincidentally, he’s now the Nationals’ first baseman.
After Thursday’s win, the Braves are 36-37 against the Nationals since the beginning of the 2007 season. It was only their 11th win in 28 games at Nationals Park…. Jason Heyward and Freddie Freeman are both 21. The last time the Braves had two under-22 players in opening day lineup was 1979 (Bob Horner, Glenn Hubbard), and the last time any team had two was Tampa Bay in 2003 (Carl Crawford, Rocco Baldelli)…. Chipper Jones’ first-inning double was the 494th of his career. — David O’Brien