“Fun time’s over”

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Mets camp has been something of a riot for the first couple of weeks of spring training. Everyone’s loose, Cespedes is driving crazy cars, riding horses and buying hogs. It’s been silly, frankly.

Games started today, though. The Mets played an intrasquad game and now they go on to battle the enemy. To that end, manager Terry Collins had this to say to his troops:

I totally get that for Collins and his players. There is a seriousness of purpose required on the part of professional athletes. If you’re managing a team you want people to be loose, but you also want to keep a lid on zaniness which can quickly lead to a lack of focus. It’s probably the central dilemma of most managers, actually. I can’t imagine it’s easy.

At the start of a new baseball season, however, I want to remind people that fans don’t have to think that way. We’re so conditioned to speak about sports as if we’re of sports rather than merely observers. We get too mad when our teams lose and, frankly, a bit too pleased when they win. We mistake the entertainment we get from sports for some actual task we, ourselves, are undertaking. We get too serious about team loyalty and, some of us anyway, are loathe to look at the sillier and inconsequential side of sports and simply enjoy them for their own sake. Curiously, we also tend to ignore the actually serious, real-life implications of sports, but that’s another topic I suppose.

The point is that the fun may be over for Yoenis Cespedes and his convoy of ridiculousness, but it doesn’t have to be over for us. Over the course of the next eight months there will be a lot of ups and downs for everyone. A lot of bad news and good news. Many controversies and, unfortunately, tragedies in the world of baseball. But there will also be a good deal of funny nonsense. Above all else, there will be a couple thousand baseball games, the purpose of which are to entertain us.

Let’s remember not too take it all too seriously. Be nice to people in comment sections, in the bleacher seat in front of you and the barstool next to yours. When your wife or husband or significant other wants you to turn off the game to talk to them, do it. We’ll have the recap for you here in the morning. When a player on the team you root for messes up, take a moment to breathe and remember that he’s trying his best before tweeting about how much you hate him and how you wish he was never born. When a player on the team you root for hits a home run take a moment to remember his triumph is not your triumph and you didn’t just earn the right to taunt people for more than a moment. Try to be positive. Try to be zen.

It’s a game. It’s supposed to be fun. Terry Collins may not want it do be for his guys, but Terry Collins isn’t our boss. We don’t need to listen to him.

Olson blasts two HRs, Acuña has 4 hits as Strider, Braves overpower Phillies 11-4

Dale Zanine-USA TODAY Sports
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ATLANTA – Given a seven-run lead in the first inning, Atlanta right-hander Spencer Strider could relax and keep adding to his majors-leading strikeout total.

“That game felt like it was over pretty quick,” Strider said.

Ronald Acuña Jr. drove in three runs with four hits, including a two-run single in Atlanta’s seven-run first inning, and the Braves beat the Philadelphia Phillies 11-4 on Sunday night to split the four-game series.

“Getting a lead first is big, especially when you get that big of a lead,” Strider said. “… When we’re putting up runs, my job isn’t to be perfect. My job is to get outs.”

Following the game, Braves manager Brian Snitker announced right-hander Michael Soroka will be recalled to make his first start since the 2020 season on Monday night at Oakland.

Matt Olson hit a pair of two-run homers for Atlanta, and Strider became the fastest pitcher in modern history to reach 100 strikeouts in a season.

“It’s incredible,” said Acuña through a translator of Strider. “Every time he goes out to pitch it seems like he’s going to strike everybody out.”

Acuña hit a run-scoring triple in the fifth before Olson’s second homer to center. Acuña had two singles in the first when the Braves sent 11 batters to the plate, collected seven hits and opened a 7-0 lead. Led by Acuña and Olson, who had three hits, the Braves set a season high with 20 hits.

Strider (5-2) struck out nine while pitching six innings of two-run ball. The right-hander fired a called third strike past Nick Castellanos for the first out of the fourth, giving him 100 strikeouts in 61 innings and topping Jacob deGrom‘s 61 2/3 innings in 2021 as the fastest to 100 in the modern era.

“It’s cool,” Strider said, adding “hopefully it’ll keep going.”

Olson followed Acuña’s leadoff single with a 464-foot homer to right-center. Austin Riley added another homer before Ozzie Albies and Acuña had two-run singles in the long first inning.

Phillies shortstop Trea Turner and left fielder Kyle Schwarber each committed an error on a grounder by Orlando Arcia, setting up two unearned runs in the inning.

Strider walked Kody Clemens to open the third. Brandon Marsh followed with a two-run homer for the Phillies’ first hit. Schwarber hit a two-run homer off Collin McHugh in the seventh.

LEAPING CATCH

Michael Harris II celebrated the one-year anniversary of his major league debut by robbing Schwarber of a homer with a leaping catch at the center-field wall in the second. As Harris shook his head to say “No!” after coming down with the ball on the warning track, Strider pumped his fist in approval on the mound – after realizing Harris had the ball.

“He put me through an emotional roller coaster for a moment,” Strider said.

SOROKA RETURNING TO ROTATION

Soroka was scratched from his scheduled start at Triple-A Gwinnett on Sunday, setting the stage for his final step in his comeback from two torn Achilles tendons.

“To get back is really a feather in that kid’s cap,” Snitker said.

Soroka will be making his first start in the majors since Aug. 3, 2020, against the New York Mets when he suffered a torn right Achilles tendon. Following a setback which required a follow-up surgery, he suffered another tear of the same Achilles tendon midway through the 2021 season.

Soroka suffered another complication in his comeback when a hamstring injury slowed his progress this spring.

Acuña said he was “super happy, super excited for him, super proud of him” and added “I’m just hoping for continued good health.”

Soroka looked like an emerging ace when he finished 13-4 with a 2.68 ERA in 2019 and placed second in the NL Rookie of the Year voting and sixth in the NL Cy Young voting.

The Braves are 0-3 in bullpen committee games as they attempt to overcome losing two key starters, Max Fried (strained left forearm) and Kyle Wright (right shoulder inflammation) to the injured list in early May. Each is expected to miss at least two months.

RHP Dereck Rodriguez, who gave up one hit in two scoreless innings, was optioned to Gwinnett after the game to clear a roster spot for Soroka.

QUICK EXIT

Phillies right-hander Dylan Covey (0-1), claimed off waivers from the Los Angeles Dodgers on May 20, didn’t make it through the first inning. Covey allowed seven runs, five earned, and six hits, including the homers by Olson and Riley.

TRAINER’S ROOM

Phillies: 3B Alex Bohm was held out with hamstring tightness. … LHP José Alvarado (left elbow inflammation) threw the bullpen session originally scheduled for Saturday. Manager Rob Thomson said there was no report that Alvarado, who was placed on the injured list on May 10, had any difficulty.

UP NEXT

Phillies: Following an off day, LHP Ranger Suárez (0-1, 9.82 ERA) is scheduled to face Mets RHP Kodai Senga (4-3, 3.94 ERA) in Tuesday night’s opener of a three-game series in New York.

Braves: Soroka was 1-2 with a 4.33 ERA in eight games with Triple-A Gwinnett. He allowed a combined four hits and two runs over 10 2/3 innings in his last two starts. RHP Paul Blackburn (7-6, 4.28 ERA in 2022) is scheduled to make his 2023 debut for Oakland as he returns from a finger injury.