One year after bearing the weight of another disappointing October in Atlanta, Freddie Freeman has energized his hometown city with an MVP-caliber performance that has brought the Braves within two wins of their first trip to the World Series since 1999.
Freeman homered for a second straight game and contributed to a four-run fifth inning that allowed the Braves to post an 8-7 win over the Dodgers in Game 2 of the National League Championship Series on Tuesday night at Globe Life Field in Arlington.
"He keeps showing why he's the MVP," Braves closer Mark Melancon said. "Freddie is one of the most consistent players I've ever played against, played with or been around. If there was one word to sum him up, it's consistency."
After the Braves improved to 2-0 in the NLCS, Freeman had to undergo treatment on his right elbow, which was hit by an Alex Wood pitch in the eighth inning. Manager Brian Snitker said all indications were Freeman would be fine after getting hit on the funny bone.
But when dealing with Atlanta sports, there's always seemingly reason to worry. There have been too many stumbles in big games. So it wasn't necessarily surprising to see Melancon called upon on a night when the Dodgers had trailed 7-0 in the seventh and by five runs entering the ninth. But the fact that he stranded the potential tying run at third provided further indication this year might be different for the Braves.
"This is a good ballclub we're playing, and they're explosive, as we saw," Snitker said. "I didn't feel good with a big lead, because these guys are too powerful. But that's a good ballgame to win. They all are now. We kind of shot ourselves in the foot there at the end, and Melancon did a great job coming in."
After catching Albies' homer for a second straight night, Melancon sat down and then quickly rose again when Max Muncy's two-run homer off Josh Tomlin brought the Dodgers within two runs. Cody Bellinger drilled an RBI triple off Melancon, who then induced an AJ Pollock groundout to give the Braves a 2-0 lead in this best-of-seven series.
"A lot of these guys are too young to know the city's history, but I'm not," Freeman said last week. "Now we get to start our own history."
In postseason history, teams that have won the first two games of any best-of-seven series have gone on to win that series 72 of 85 times (85 percent). The 1996 Braves became part of the other 15 percent after winning the first two games of the World Series against the Yankees before losing the next four.
"They are a good club," Melancon said of the Dodgers. "They are going to continue to fight. We have to treat tomorrow like it's the first game of the series and come out strong. There's no reason for either club to take the foot off the gas. Nobody has won anything yet."
The Braves have won each of their first seven games of the playoffs, joining the 2014 Royals, the '07 Rockies and the 1976 Reds as the only teams to do so. Atlanta had entered this postseason having lost 10 consecutive postseason rounds dating back to 2001.
Anderson has totaled 15 2/3 scoreless innings through his first three career postseason starts. He joins Hall of Famer Christy Mathewson as the only pitchers to go at least four innings and not allow a run in each of their first three career postseason games. Mathewson did so with three shutouts in the 1905 World Series.
Freeman aided Anderson's effort with the great stretch he made to end the first inning. While stretching toward right field, he managed to keep his right foot on the bag while securing Austin Riley's wide throw from third base. The Dodgers would have loaded the bases without that out.
"Riley made a fantastic play, and Freddie on the other end showing why he's got that Gold Glove," Anderson said. "That was pretty fantastic. It definitely settled me down that we were able to get out of that jam, and that went a long way to help me get through the innings that I got through."
But while the kids deserve praise, the Braves are in their current position because of Freeman, who gave Anderson an early lead with a two-run homer in the fourth with the team's first hit against Tony Gonsolin, who stepped in to start after Clayton Kershaw was scratched because of back spasms. The shot into the right-field seats came against a 2-2 splitter on the inside corner.
Tuesday marked the second straight night the game's first run was driven in by Freeman, who homered against Walker Buehler in the first inning of Game 1. Freeman entered Monday having hit just two homers with a .731 OPS through his first 19 career playoff games.
This year has been different in many ways for Freeman, who was introduced to the postseason scene in 2012 during Chipper Jones' final season. He then endured the three-year rebuild that yielded the likes of Anderson and positioned the Braves for what has been three straight division titles.
Now, the Braves are nearing what would be their first World Series since Jones' 1999 NL MVP Award-winning season. The Hall of Fame third baseman befriended Freeman near the end of his career and has continued to be a close friend.
Freeman continues to honor his friend by wearing a mangled T-shirt that was designed for Jones before he retired. The shirt appears to be in the midst of its final days. But it's starting to look like the owner might need to preserve his good-luck charm beyond this week.
"The guy's healthy and he's had a great year," Snitker said. "He's just continuing it on now."