Freeman makes 233rd career HR his 1st slam

September 5th, 2020

ATLANTA -- 's smile and expressions of relief told the story. His storied career, which had included 200-plus homers and more than 100 plate appearances with the bases loaded, had been void of a grand slam until he finally hit one on Friday night at Truist Park.

Freeman’s game-tying slam in the fourth inning was not enough for the Braves, who suffered a 10-9 loss to the Nationals in the second game of a seven-inning doubleheader. But it still may have been the top highlight of a day filled with home runs.

“It’s just unbelievable he’d never hit a grand slam as elite of a hitter as he is,” Braves manager Brian Snitker said. “He’s gotten a lot of bases-loaded hits. It’s mind-boggling he had never hit a grand slam.”

Before looking at how the Braves fumbled a chance to sweep this doubleheader, let’s focus on the game-tying grand slam Freeman hit against Tanner Rainey in the fourth. Rainey entered the game having limited opponents to a .096 batting average. Freeman entered the game with 232 home runs, none of which had been hit over 104 plate appearances with the bases loaded.

The four-time All-Star’s long wait ended when he drilled Rainey’s low fastball into the Braves’ bullpen in right-center field. He had doubled in the third to extend his hitting streak to 18 games, MLB’s longest current streak.

According to the Elias Sports Bureau, Freeman hit the second-most homers in MLB history before tallying his first grand slam. Sammy Sosa hit 246 home runs before belting his first with the bases loaded.

The Braves had totaled 26 grand slams dating back to Freeman’s Sept. 1, 2010, MLB debut. Some of the teammates who hit slams before him included veteran pitcher Jaime García, outfielder Rafael Ortega and Derrek Lee, whose Braves career only consisted of 151 plate appearances in 2010.

“It was really surprising that was his first grand slam,” Ronald Acuña Jr. said through an interpreter. “It was good to see him enjoy it as much as the team did.”

This really could have been a celebratory day for the Braves, who totaled seven homers during the twin bill. Acuña accounted for three of those, including his 17th leadoff homer that matched a franchise record in the first game.

Austin Riley led off the second game’s second inning with a 471-foot shot, which stands as the second-longest homer hit by a Braves player since Statcast began tracking in 2015. Acuña hit a 473-foot blast off Gerrit Cole on Aug. 26.

Travis d’Arnaud’s two-run homer off Daniel Hudson in the seventh inning of the nightcap came after Snitker chose to protect his bullpen by going with his last-resort options in the top of the seventh.

Trailing, 8-7, entering the final inning, Snitker gave the ball to Patrick Weigel, who had been called up from the team’s alternate training site to serve as the 29th man during the doubleheader. Weigel retired just two of the seven hitters he faced, surrendered two runs and saw his mess cleaned up by utility man Charlie Culberson, who retired the only batter he faced.

How did the Braves reach a point where Weigel and Culberson were called upon in a winnable game? Will Smith has to shoulder some blame after allowing his fifth homer over his past 7 1/3 innings. Had he not surrendered Trea Turner’s go-ahead solo shot in the sixth, Chris Martin or closer Mark Melancon would have pitched the seventh.

But primarily it didn’t help that the Braves got a total of 6 1/3 innings from their starters during this doubleheader. Shane Greene was used with Atlanta winning, 5-1, in the sixth inning of the first game. But like Martin and Melancon, he likely wouldn’t have been used with the Braves trailing in the second game.

“If I could look into a crystal ball and see we were going to score all of those runs, then I wouldn’t have warmed some of the other guys up,” Snitker said. “And we didn’t know what was going to happen in [the second game]. So we wanted to nail that [first game] down if we could.”