ATLANTA -- Given all he has endured over the past few years, it was fitting that Freddie Freeman delivered the decisive blow to preserve the efforts of the many Braves who contributed to the season-extending 6-5 win over the Dodgers in Game 3 of the National League Division Series.
Once closer Arodys Vizcaino had escaped potential disaster in the ninth inning of Sunday night's "must win" game, the Braves could enjoy Ronald Acuna Jr.'s jaw-dropping grand slam and celebrate Freeman's timely contribution, a go-ahead homer off former teammate Alex Wood in the sixth inning.
"Somebody asked me today before the game who [I would pick to deliver in a big situation]," manager Brian Snitker said. "I was like, 'Freddie.' I mean, it's always him. He's the guy that we count on."
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Freeman established himself as a mainstay during Chipper Jones' final years, then was chosen to be the franchise cornerstone during the recent massive rebuild. The experiences he had while being part of a 90-loss team each of the past three years have added to the sweetness of this season, which was extended courtesy of what stands as his finest postseason moment.
So when Freeman jumped on Wood's first-pitch curveball and watched his first career postseason homer sail into the right-field seats, he certainly had reason to break free from his usually composed demeanor. He pumped his fists while looking toward his teammates, who certainly understood the gravity of the moment.
"I don't really know what happened," Freeman said. "They showed me the replay after the game, and I guess I was pretty excited after I hit it. That was a big moment that put us ahead. So kind of emotions took over."
In the history of best-of-five series with the 2-2-1 format, 27 teams have lost the first two games on the road. Of the 11 teams to force a Game 4, four won a second straight time at home to set up a winner-take-all Game 5 on the road, and three came all the way back to win the series.
So the odds are against the Braves, just as they were when nobody picked them to win the NL East before the season. Or when Sunday's five-run lead was erased by the fifth inning. Or when Vizcaino put two on before recording the first out of his scoreless ninth. It's dicey, but it's doable.
"The biggest game of our lives was tonight, and obviously seeing the [5-0] lead go away was not ideal, but we held at 5-5, so we knew we had a chance," Freeman said. "This team's been doing it all year. When we get down, we come back."
This underdog team seems to thrive on the youthful innocence that was apparent yet again after the game, when Acuna admitted that he had never heard of Mickey Mantle. The 20-year-old phenom was asked about the Yankee legend because a few hours earlier, he supplanted Mantle (21 years old in the 1953 World Series) as the youngest player to hit a grand slam in a postseason game.
"He continues to amaze," Freeman said of Acuna. "I don't think we needed or wanted anybody else in that situation."
Acuna found himself in that situation because Dodgers rookie starter Walker Buehler momentarily lost his command. Nick Markakis drew a four-pitch walk to begin the second, and the usually aggressive Ozzie Albies looked at two pitches out of the zone before delivering a two-out single that center fielder Cody Bellinger fumbled, allowing the Braves to put runners at second and third.
After Charlie Culberson was intentionally walked, Sean Newcomb looked at four straight pitches out of the zone. That bases-loaded walk drawn by a pitcher who owns three career hits ended the Braves' 19-inning scoreless drought to begin this NLDS. Acuna then looked at three balls before hitting his slam on a 3-1 count; Freeman later drilled Wood's first pitch of the night into the lasting memory of countless fans.
It was just one of those nights for the Braves. Consequently, this memorable season will consist of at least one more day.
"We approached this game like there may be no tomorrow," Snitker said. "We gotta play it like that."
MOMENTS THAT MATTERED
After jumping out to a five-run lead, the Braves stuck to their plan to keep a short leash on Newcomb, who was lifted after walking two batters in the third. Justin Turner made those walks costly when he greeted Kevin Gausman with an RBI single, and an additional run scored on the play when the ball got behind Acuna.
Gausman's entry prompted the Dodgers to insert left-handed slugger Player Page for Max Muncy into their lineup in the third inning. After Chris Taylor hit a two-run homer in the fifth, Muncy greeted southpaw Max Fried with a game-tying solo home run -- his fifth homer within a span of 24 at-bats against Atlanta.
"Max hung a breaking ball, but other than that, yeah, it was just a hard-fought game, man," Snitker said. "That was a playoff game there."
Touki Toussaint became the first Braves rookie to earn a postseason win since John Rocker in Game 5 of the 1998 NLDS.
YOU GOTTA SEE THIS
Culberson added to his list of big postseason moments when he produced one of the game's top defensive plays to deny the Dodgers a run. Former Brave Matt Kemp opened the sixth with a double, but after advancing to third on a groundout, he made the mistake of trying to score against a drawn-in Culberson, who snared Enrique Hernandez's sharp grounder and fired a strike to Kurt Suzuki, who applied the tag.
HE SAID IT
"When we're seeing all their pitchers take the line for the intros and all of them are spiked up, not one of them are turfed up, so he's probably going to be quick, make sure you're ready." -- Muncy, on the fact that most of the Braves' relievers were wearing spikes, indicating Newcomb would not pitch more than a few innings