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Braves clinch No. 2 seed with Freddie's HR

@RichardJustice
September 26, 2020

Freddie Freeman improved his National League MVP Award credentials with another signature moment: A two-run walk-off home run in the bottom of the 11th inning that gave the Braves an 8-7 victory over the Red Sox at Truist Park on Friday night. Freeman didn’t start the game, but he entered

Freddie Freeman improved his National League MVP Award credentials with another signature moment: A two-run walk-off home run in the bottom of the 11th inning that gave the Braves an 8-7 victory over the Red Sox at Truist Park on Friday night.

Freeman didn’t start the game, but he entered as a pinch-hitter in the ninth. His game-winning blast came off Red Sox lefty reliever Jeffrey Springs to lead off the 11th with Ender Inciarte as the automatic runner at second base.

At 35-23, the Braves clinched the No. 2 seed in the NL and will have home-field advantage in next week’s Wild Card Series against the No. 7 seed, who is to be determined. The seeding was one of the last boxes Atlanta had hoped to check in this weekend’s regular-season wrapup against the Red Sox.

Box score

Meanwhile, right-hander Kyle Wright solidified his place in the Braves’ postseason rotation with a performance that was as efficient as it was dominant. At least that was the case for six innings before he struggled with command, but the Braves will happily take it after watching the 24-year-old right-hander pitch a career-high 6 2/3 innings, allowing two runs in a no-decision. The Braves trailed in the eighth, 10th and 11th innings before finally sealing the victory.

“He was really, really good,” Braves manager Brian Snitker said. “I love the way he came out attacking and was really efficient. That was very encouraging.”

The Braves won’t announce their postseason rotation until Monday, but Max Fried and Ian Anderson appear to be the logical choices for Games 1 and 2 on Wednesday and Thursday. Even before the game, Snitker indicated Wright was the frontrunner for the Game 3 start. If Snitker sought validation for leaning that way, Wright made a strong case by retiring 12 Red Sox in order on just 39 pitches to open the game.

Braves' postseason FAQ

Jackie Bradley Jr. led off the top of the fifth inning with a home run, but Wright otherwise sailed through six innings on 59 pitches. Then, in the seventh, Wright walked the bases loaded, and a 1-1 tie was broken by Rafael Devers’ infield grounder to end Wright’s outing. In his last three starts, he has given the Braves at least six innings while allowing just five earned runs.

“I don’t know,” Snitker said. “He just kind of got out of whack there. His stuff was still good, but we kept it manageable.”

As for Freeman, arguably the frontrunner for the NL MVP Award, two of his closest competitors are teammates: Ronald Acuña Jr., who led off the bottom of the first with a 495-foot homer, and Marcell Ozuna, who was on base five times with three hits and two walks.

Before the game, Freeman asked Snitker if he was getting a true day off or if he should stay ready to play. Freeman was told to stay ready, and he thought he might be used in the eighth inning before he was told to get ready again in the ninth. Freeman walked in that inning before leading off the bottom of the 11th.

“I was hanging out. There wasn't much adrenaline flowing the first few innings,” Freeman said. “Once it got past the fifth inning, I was ready.”

The Red Sox led, 2-1, entering the eighth, then things were back and forth over the next three innings. Finally, Freeman stepped to the plate in the bottom of the 11th. He was up there to do exactly what he did.

“I was just trying to send everyone home,” he said. “We had a long one last night.”

He took a slider on the outside part of the plate, then was looking for a fastball, which he got.

Snitker remembered how Braves Hall of Fame manager Bobby Cox loved giving his best players days off, which then gave him the option of using them in late situations with the game on the line.

“I was trying to stay away from him,” Snitker said. “Somebody had a voodoo doll or something going on in that ninth inning, and we kind of had to empty the gun. Yeah, it’s nice to have [him] over there.”

Freeman answers MVP questions with one answer: what the postseason means to him. Ultimately, that means more to him than a shelf full of MVP Awards. To be in this conversation after beginning the season with a rough bout of COVID-19 is more than he could have expected.

When he returned to the Braves, he had five days of practice before facing two-time NL Cy Young Award winner Jacob deGrom on Opening Day.

“I didn’t even know I was going to be ready for Opening Day,” he said. “It’s been a crazy season. We've only played 58 games, and it literally feels like 158.

“You know, it's hopefully one I could look back on. And you know, I'm pretty proud of it right now.”

Richard Justice has been a reporter for MLB.com since 2011. Follow him on Twitter at @RichardJustice.