ATLANTA -- Along with having to solve Jacob deGrom, the Braves had to overcome yet another blown save opportunity. But thanks to Freddie Freeman they managed to throw themselves back in the thick of an exciting National League East race.
A little more than an hour after gaining his latest All-Star selection, Freeman produced an exciting infield single that allowed him and his Braves teammates to celebrate a 4-3 walk-off win over the Mets at Truist Park on Thursday night. The game-winner lined off pitcher Seth Lugo’s shoes and landed in a spot that allowed Atlanta’s first baseman to momentarily forget about his four-strikeout night.
“It’s amazing what you do when you put the ball in play,” Freeman said with a laugh. “I was trying to do that all game. It was just a great inning after they scored a run in the top of the ninth. That was just a huge win for us.”
There were actually two great innings in this win that gave the Braves a series victory and moved them within 3 1/2 games of the first-place Mets in the National League East. As exciting as the action-packed ninth might have been, the three-run first constructed against deGrom was every bit as improbable.
Still, even after delivering a big blow against the seemingly-immortal right-hander, the Braves had to overcome the game-tying home run Dom Smith hit against closer Will Smith to begin the ninth. The blown save prevented rookie starter Ian Anderson from being rewarded on a night when he allowed two runs and just three hits, including the first of Smith’s two homers.
But this night was different than many others, including Tuesday, when Atlanta’s bullpen squandered a seventh-inning lead against the Mets. The first-inning uprising, which included Austin Riley homering against a 99.7 mph pitch, proved to be an entertaining opening act for the ninth, which began with Guillermo Heredia reaching second base on a soft tapper that Lugo fielded and threw past first base.
With Heredia on third and one out, the Mets intentionally walked Ronald Acuña Jr., who had been held out of the starting lineup with mid-back tightness. Then Ender Inciarte may have provided the plate appearance of the night when he fell behind 0-2 before ending an eight-pitch showdown by drawing a walk.
“That was an awesome at-bat by Ender to bring Freddie up,” Braves manager Brian Snitker said.
Freeman hit .373 with a 1.024 OPS over his final 18 games in June. But this didn’t look like it would be his night when he struck out in his first four plate appearances. He’s had past success against deGrom, but he accounted for three of the two-time Cy Young Award winner’s 14 strikeouts on this night.
But none of those strikeouts meant a thing, when Freeman smoked a liner that hit Lugo’s left foot and caromed toward third base. Third baseman Luis Guillorme fielded the ball and was just a tick too late with his off-balance throw to first base.
“I was looking at the ball and Freddie hauling ass,” Snitker said.
There was seemingly a chance Guillorme could have ended the inning by stepping on third for a force. But Mets manager Luis Rojas defended his third baseman, saying it would have been difficult for him to keep his balance enough to cleanly field the ball and realize there might be a chance he could beat Acuña to third.
“When you commit to make that do-or-die play on that ball ricocheting off the pitcher, your mindset is just [to] go all in for it. It’s just a tough adjustment at that point,” Rojas said.
Expectations of what the night might bring were certainly adjusted when deGrom allowed three runs in the first, or half of the total he had surrendered in the 78 innings completed entering this series finale. The veteran hurler blanked the Braves over the remainder of his seven-inning effort and exited with his ERA still being a ridiculous 0.95 through 14 starts.
“Getting three runs off Jake is very hard to do,” Freeman said. “Doing it off him in just one inning is obviously even harder.”
Placed in the leadoff spot when Acuña was scratched about 30 minutes before the first pitch, Ehire Adrianza looked like he might need to exit after fouling a pitch off his foot. But Adrianza shook off the pain and bounced a leadoff triple down the right-field line.
Well, it became a leadoff triple when a replay review reversed Alan Porter’s initial call of Adrianza being out at third. Ozzie Albies drove in Adrianza with a single and Riley energized the home crowd when he reached across the plate and powered an 0-2 fastball over the right-field wall.
Riley’s two-run shot was his 14th homer of the season and the second home run he had hit within his first 10 career at-bats against deGrom. This marked the first time the right-hander had allowed multiple runs in the first inning since the Nationals tagged him for three unearned runs on Aug. 11, 2019.
Before Albies plated Adrianza, deGrom hadn’t allowed a first-inning run since last year’s Sept. 11 start against the Blue Jays. He hadn’t allowed a first-inning run against the Braves since Freeman homered against him in the opening frame of a game on June 13, 2015.
Nobody expected deGrom to have this kind of night and very few likely expected the Braves to win four of seven against the Mets over the past two weeks and reignite their bid to win a fourth consecutive division title.
“You need to win series and it was big to win this series,” Snitker said.