A month ago we wondered if he’d make the team; now he’s carrying it. Two weeks ago we wondered if he’d have a chance to win rookie of the year; now we’re thinking, “Why not MVP?”
On Sunday a TV reporter used the word “legend” in a question to Jason Heyward, who scoffed. “Legend?” he said. “It’s one season — it’s not even two weeks.” And it is terribly early to be bandying such loaded terms. That said …
“He’s a beast,” Brian McCann said.
“He’s special,” Jair Jurrjens said. “He’s awesome.”
“He’s the one,” Eric Hinske said. “These guys don’t come around that often, but he’s the one.”
The Braves won Sunday because the already famous rookie did a thing maybe one 20-year-old in a hundred thousand — this one — could have managed. With two out in the ninth and his team down a run, Heyward came to bat and, for four excruciating pitches, kept the bat on his shoulder.
Jurrjens: “In a big at-bat, another kid would be swinging, trying to hit a bomb.”
Hinske: “In a spot like that, you know what’s at stake. But you’ve got to try to be calm. You’ve got to breathe.”
Heyward: “I took some time to see what [Colorado closer Franklin Morales] was doing.”
What was Morales doing? Throwing fastballs gauged at 96 mph by the Turner Field radar gun. Heyward took four of them — the first two for balls, the next two for strikes. Now the rookie was down to one swing, but this rookie is such an adult he knew it didn’t need to be a big swing.
“I was just going with the pitch,” Heyward said. “I was trying to relax, not trying to do too much with it.”
He didn’t. He stuck out his bat and poked the ball past third baseman Ian Stewart into left field. He went the other way. He hit it where they weren’t. He won a game in which the Braves were down to their last strike. How, Heyward was asked, does a 20-year-old do such a thing?
“It helps the more you go through it,” he said.
And how many times has he gone through it? Well, there was that one. “The last time we were at home,” he said. “The last game against the Cubs. There was an at-bat I could have done better.”
McCann: “It’s fun to watch him go through the process and make adjustments. It’s just been amazing watching it. He doesn’t get caught up in what the media has been saying: He just does what he can do. He’s had the respect of everybody in this clubhouse from Day 1.”
Heyward has 15 RBIs; no other Brave has more than eight. Heyward has six extra-base hits; among Braves, only Martin Prado has that many. Heyward has taken two postgame pies in the face; no other Brave has taken any.
Hinske did the honors Sunday. (After Heyward’s Opening Day home run, Peter Moylan had been the pieman.) “A walk-off win,” Hinske said, “and a rookie has to get a pie in the face.”
Regarding precocious rookies, Hinske has some standing. He played with one at Tampa Bay in 2008. Speaking of Heyward, Hinske said: “He reminds me a lot of Evan Longoria. In a big situation, they’re able to slow themselves down and get the job done.”
Two weeks in the big leagues, and already Heyward has two game-winning hits. And this time, it must be noted, he acted a bit like a rookie. After rounding first base, he leaped in the air four times. “I wasn’t too calm today,” he said, but he was calm when it counted. And he, as ever, had a perfectly sound reason for going temporarily insane.
When he’d hit the home run Opening Day, Heyward said, he’d reined in his feelings. “That game wasn’t over. Today the game was over.”
Yes it was. Jason Heyward ended it. And the legend grows.