Freddie Freeman did most of the heavy lifting in the Braves’ 7-6 win over the Nationals on Thursday night at Nationals Park, giving his team -- somewhat travel-weary after a middle-of-the-night arrival to Washington, D.C. -- a spark as they begin one of the longest road trips of the season.
It was a game that would have been easy to lose hope in early. The Braves had a 5-0 deficit after just two innings, after the Nats knocked five extra-base hits off starter Robbie Erlin, who lasted just 1 2/3 innings. But they chipped away slowly -- and dramatically, logging all seven runs on homers.
Freeman’s two-run homer off Austin Voth in the fourth inning represented his 39th and 40th RBIs, pushing him past Fernando Tatis Jr. for the NL lead. Freeman then padded those numbers with another game-tying two-run shot in the seventh off Will Harris, giving him 10 homers and 42 RBIs on the year.
And Freeman drove the second ball a Statcast-projected 443 feet -- his longest of the season -- on very little sleep.
“The last time I looked at my phone this morning, it was 5:07 [a.m.], and I think we got our bags around 4:45,” Freeman said. “These are the tough days. These are the grind days during the season, and for us to come out and [win] this ballgame after the start of it, that's huge for our team at the start of this road trip.”
Half of Freeman’s 10 homers have come against the Nationals. In the past seven games, he has five homers and 20 RBIs.
“I was this close, honestly, to just walking [Freeman],” Nationals manager Dave Martinez said. “But I had a strong feeling that Harris, with his cutter, could get him out. We’re up two right there. It just didn’t happen tonight.”
Freeman’s numbers this year aren’t surprising considering his history. He’s an 11-year veteran and a four-time All-Star, and he has played in four postseasons and has ranked in the top 10 in NL MVP Award voting four times. Yet when his teammates talk about him, they usually allude to the fact that Freeman, outside of Atlanta, doesn’t get talked about enough.
Is it possible to still be a best-kept secret this far into such an accomplished career?
“He’s the best baseball player that nobody really knows exists,” said Josh Tomlin, who will start Friday’s game. “The best way I can put it is he’s probably the most underrated baseball player I’ve ever seen.”
“It's the same every single year, and you just kind of can take it for granted,” said Dansby Swanson, who hit the game-winning homer in the eighth. “‘Oh, there’s Freddie, hitting over .300. He’s going to have 100 RBIs, close to 30 homers in a regular year.’
“He really does help us tick. It's not too often that you can pencil somebody into your lineup every single day and get the same thing out of them -- offensively, defensively, on the bases, in the clubhouse -- and do it at a superstar level.”
It’s also notable Freeman, who reached a milestone Wednesday with a homer for his 1,500th hit, is mashing in the two-hole. He hit in that spot for the 11th time this season, and the Braves’ record in those games is 9-2. As the No. 2 hitter, Freeman is batting .442 (19-for-43).
Freeman doesn’t care where he hits, but he said he likes the extra at-bats that hitting in the top of the lineup provides. And with how productive this offense is, he feels like he’s always nearing an at-bat.
“You hit second, you go through the lineup and you’re like, ‘Oh, I’m up in five batters,’” Freeman said. “The way we've been swinging, it feels like I've been getting up every inning. I think we're all clicking right now, so I don't think it matters where any of us hit right now. We're just feeling pretty good.”
That mentality helps, especially after a bout of long games and short nights of sleep.
“It's easy to get checked out and be like, ‘Hey, well we did this last night, we can give them one today,’” Swanson said. “But that's just not the makeup of this team. We just scratch all the time. I think a big boost for us was when Freddie hit the two-run homer and got us on the board. It was like, 'OK, it's 5-2. It’s only 5-2. It’s something that we can overcome.' And then we just started to roll from there.”