When one's journey to the major leagues has endured plenty of setbacks, it's good to have someone in your corner.
For Travis Demeritte, it was a woman he'd never met before, sitting in the front row not far from the Atlanta Braves dugout.
After getting words of encouragement from the unknown fan while in the on-deck circle, Demeritte hit his first big league homer in nearly three years to carry the Braves to a much-needed 3-1 victory over the Chicago Cubs on Tuesday night.
“She told me it was her first game in Atlanta,” Demeritte said. “She told me to go up there and hit a homer. I told her, ‘That's not so easy. You may have to wait on that one.'”
Turns out, she didn't have to wait long at all.
Demeritte stepped into the box and lined an opposite-field drive off Marcus Stroman into the Chop House restaurant in right to break a 1-all tie in the fifth inning.
After crossing home plate, Demeritte took a brief detour on his way to the dugout to give the fan a high-five.
“I had to tell her thank you,” he said. “When someone shows all that faith in you, it gives you confidence. To have someone believe in you like that, it's very reassuring.”
Demeritte also made an impressive catch in right field to back another strong outing by Max Fried (2-2), who pitched four-hit ball over six innings to outduel Stroman (0-3).
Following up his best showing of the season in a win at the Dodgers, Fried's only big mistake was a changeup that Ian Happ launched into the left-field seats leading off the third to tie the game at 1.
The World Series champions won for only the third time in their last eight games. The Cubs have lost six of seven.
Everyone was raving about Demeritte, who was a first-round pick of the Texas Rangers in 2013 but has struggled to stick in the big leagues.
His most extensive experience came in 2019, when he hit what had been his only three big league homers while with the Detroit Tigers.
This is his second stint with the Braves organization, but most of that time has been spent in the minors.
“That's what this game is all about,” manager Brian Snitker said. “This is a guy who went through all sorts of difficulties and adversity, but he kind of hung in there.”
Will Smith, Tyler Matzek and Kenley Jansen finished up for the Braves with one scoreless inning apiece. Jansen earned his fifth save in five chances.
A former infielder, Demeritte showed off his skills in right field to make a nice sliding catch in foul territory to end the fourth.
After getting some treatment on a skinned-up knee, Demeritte came through with his first big league homer since Sept. 12, 2019, when he was playing for the Tigers against the New York Yankees.
“This is a tough game to play,” Demeritte said. “It's even harder to get to the big leagues.”
With Eddie Rosario going on the DL with an eye problem and Ronald Acuña Jr. on an injury rehab assignment, Demeritte is finally getting a chance to impress in Atlanta.
He hopes to see that fan in the same seat the next time he plays.
“I've got to get her back here,” Demeritte said with a grin.
UP AND DOWN NIGHT
After Demeritte's homer, the Braves tacked on an insurance run when Ozzie Albies' liner skipped by Michael Hermosillo and rolled almost to the center-field wall.
Dansby Swanson, who had been running from first on the hit-and-run, came all the way around to score on the two-base error.
Hermosillo redeemed himself somewhat in the sixth with a brilliant catch on Travis d'Arnaud's drive while crashing into the center-field wall.
Then in the eighth, more problems. Hermosillo was inexplicably doubled off first to end the eighth when he took off running on a fly ball to deep right-center that was caught rather easily by Adam Duvall.
Rosario got off to a bad start this season. There's appears to be a good reason. The Braves placed their slumping outfielder on the injured list with blurred vision and swelling in his right eye. He is expected to miss eight to 12 weeks. Rosario was a star of the 2021 postseason, when he was the MVP of the NL Championship Series and helped the Braves win their first World Series title in 26 years. But he had just three hits in his first 44 at-bats this season for an .068 average, with no homers or RBIs. Turns out, Rosario has been dealing with swelling in his right retina that caused blurred vision. He was examined by a retinal specialist Monday and will undergo a laser procedure to correct the problem.
Cubs: RHP Mark Leiter Jr. (0-1, 11.05 ERA) is off to a rough start in his return to the big leagues after three full seasons away. He has surrendered eight hits, six walks, two homers and nine earned runs over 7 1-3 innings.
Braves: RHP Charlie Morton (1-2, 6.33) is looking to get back on track after giving up nine earned runs, 15 hits and six walks over 10 1-3 innings in his last two starts.
Follow Paul Newberry on Twitter at https://twitter.com/pnewberry1963
More AP MLB: https://apnews.com/hub/mlb and https://twitter.com/AP_Sports