Final hurrah? Freeman driven to win with ATL

Two-run first-inning homer continues MVP's NLCS resurgence

October 23rd, 2021

LOS ANGELES -- is not a native Atlantan. He was not born in Georgia. He was not raised there. But he is now woven into the city’s fabric to such an extent that it’s difficult to imagine him leaving.

Freeman does not need Atlanta roots to understand the disappointing modern history of his adopted city’s sports scene, which took another gash last October when the Braves lost a 3-1 series lead to the Dodgers in the National League Championship Series at Globe Life Field in Arlington.

“We’ve been so close,” Freeman said after the Braves fell on Thursday, 11-2, in Game 5 of this year’s rematch NLCS at Dodger Stadium. “Obviously with last year, we were one win away. It’s been a long time since the Braves have been to the World Series, so it’s going to mean a lot if we can get there.”

If the Braves can indeed do so, they will almost certainly need Freeman to play a starring role. And they have plenty of reason to believe he will. After enduring an 0-for-8 stretch with seven strikeouts in Games 1 and 2 of the NLCS, Freeman proceeded to go 6-for-9 with two homers, two walks, four runs scored and three RBIs over his next 11 plate appearances from Games 3-5.

Before Game 5 on Thursday, Braves manager Brian Snitker flipped Freeman and Ozzie Albies, who had hit second and third in each of their first four NLCS games, in the lineup. The move paid immediate dividends when Albies poked a shift-beating single to left field with one out, then Freeman followed with a 425-foot homer -- his second in as many days -- to right-center.

Just like that (and to the surprise of precisely no one), Freeman had solidified his standing as one of Atlanta’s hottest hitters. He tends to be that kind of player, having compiled 271 homers over 12 seasons, with a .300-plus batting average in five of the past six, including a .300/.393/.503 slash line with 31 homers over 159 games this season.

Upon falling into his 0-for-8 funk to open the NLCS, Freeman watched video of his swings, compared them to similar models from September, realized that nothing had changed and put the entire episode behind him. Freeman didn’t alter anything because he didn’t need to: Over 12 seasons, he has become acutely aware of his own self and abilities.

“I’ve been doing this a long time, so I’ve been 0-for-8, and I will be 0-for-8 again at some point -- hopefully not this postseason,” Freeman said. “Baseball’s hard. It’s a round bat and a round ball coming really hard, so sometimes, you’re not going to hit the ball. I’ve been able to do that the last couple games.”

If Freeman continues to, all might yet turn out fine in Atlanta. If he doesn’t, and the Braves lose their grip on another 3-1 NLCS lead, then it’s possible that Freeman could play his final two games as a Brave this weekend. With his eight-year, $135 million contract set to expire at the end of the World Series, Freeman has reportedly talked with Atlanta about an extension, but nothing has come to fruition quite yet.

The general industry consensus is that this marriage is too idyllic to break apart -- the Braves love Freddie, Freddie loves the Braves, why change a good thing? But without dried ink on paper, questions will linger.

Reminded late Thursday that he has been with Atlanta since 2010, Freeman quipped: “I don’t like hearing 12 years. That’s a long time. It means I’m getting toward the end.” While that may have been an attempt at gallows humor, Freeman does understand that, at age 32, he only has so many prime seasons left.

This is a player who came to the organization at age 17 in the second round of the 2007 MLB Draft. After debuting for Atlanta in 2010, Freeman watched the Braves fall from a playoff team that season to a 95-loss club half a decade later. Along the way, he established himself as a five-time All-Star and an MVP. He bought a house in Georgia. His son plays Little League there.

The only missing component of Freeman’s career-long citizenship is a ring, which remains, for now, five wins out of his grasp.

“He’s been through the really rough times of this team when they weren’t really winning at all, and to finally be in a position to where we could get there, I think that is huge,” teammate Austin Riley said. “I think if you ask every player, it would mean a lot to them for us to get to the World Series for him.”