Freeman's five RBIs lead Braves past Mets
Slugger ties single-game career high; Maholm improves to 10-10
ATLANTA -- The Braves leaned on their pitching staff during last week's six-game winning streak, scraping across just enough runs to survive over an unbeaten five-game start to their current nine-game homestand. On Monday, it was the offense's turn to set the pace.
After being shut out for just the second time since June 22 in Sunday's loss to the Marlins, the Braves erupted for 17 hits on their way to a 13-5 win over the Mets in Monday afternoon's series opener at Turner Field. Freddie Freeman matched a career high with five RBIs to bring his team-leading season total to 93, and B.J. Upton continued his Labor Day weekend hot streak with a pair of doubles and two runs scored.
"You never want to get shut out," Freeman said. "But when you do and come back the next day and score six in the first two innings, it kind of takes some weight off your shoulders."
The Braves teed off early on Mets starter Daisuke Matsuzaka, who was making his third start with New York since signing with the club on Aug. 22. Every Braves position player in the starting lineup had at least one hit and one run scored, and only second baseman Dan Uggla finished without at least two hits.
Freeman sent a two-run double over the head of right fielder Andrew Brown in the bottom of the first inning to get the Braves on the board before Matsuzaka had recorded an out. In the second, after Andrelton Simmons had already come around to score on the second of four singles off the bat of Jordan Schafer, Freeman launched a cutter that ran over the middle of the plate to right field for a three-run blast, the first baseman's 18th home run of the season.
"He gave us a couple great at-bats on a tough day to play," manager Fredi Gonzalez said of Freeman. "The first two innings almost took an hour, the guys were not around the plate, but he gave us great at-bats and put us on the board."
Between Matsuzaka's notoriously deliberate pitching style, the endless line of calls to the bullpen and both offenses' ability to extend innings, the slow pace of the game took its toll on pitchers and hitters alike. Braves starter Paul Maholm had thrown 52 pitches through two innings and retired his final batter in the top of the fifth with his 100th pitch of the afternoon.
"Normally I'm trying to get as close to 10 pitches per inning as I can, and obviously it wasn't there today, as far as that goes," Maholm said. "I'm sure it [stinks] as a position guy to sit back and try and deal with that both ways. Both teams took forever, and that's not something I enjoy pitching with."
Matsuzaka needed 72 pitches over his three innings, allowing six runs on seven hits to bump his ERA to 10.95 and leave the unenviable task of damage control over to the beleaguered Mets bullpen. The Braves victimized New York reliever Gonzalez Germen for another pair of runs in the fifth inning, when Simmons roped a two-run double into the left-field corner.
"You guys saw the results," Matsuzaka said. "Personally, it was very disappointing. I'm very disappointed in myself today."
A four-hit sixth inning, which included a run-scoring single by Brian McCann and an RBI double off the bat of B.J. Upton, chased Pedro Feliciano. Simmons struck again with the bases loaded in the eighth, bouncing a grounder under the glove of third baseman Josh Satin to plate two more runs on the error.
Freeman's performance -- his third career five-RBI game and second against the Mets -- helped break the first baseman out of a slight lull in his typically consistent production. The first baseman entered 2-for-21 with three RBIs in his last seven games, but his second-inning homer helped up his batting average with two outs and runners in scoring position to .420 (21-for-50).
"I just went up there and put my foot down," Freeman said. "When you go out and face guys you've never faced before, my approach is to be aggressive. It's kind of easier when there are guys on base. They have to come at you, because they don't want to walk you to load up the bases. He was aggressive, and I was able to capitalize on some mistakes."
The Braves' starting outfield supplemented Freeman's standout afternoon. Before leaving the game with a lower back strain, Schafer went 4-for-5 with three stolen bases to match a single-game career high and push his season total to 20 steals, while Justin Upton scored each of the first three times he reached base.
B.J. Upton built off his 4-for-6 showing in Saturday's walk-off win with hard-hit doubles in the fifth and sixth innings. Three of his 23 extra-base hits on the season have come in his last 11 at-bats, and his uptick in solid contact has not gone unnoticed around the Braves' clubhouse.
"He's been swinging the bat great," Freeman said of B.J. Upton. "You could tell in [batting practice] last week, he was almost there. He's back-spinning balls to right-center. He was just on the verge of breaking out, and now, here he goes. He seems to do very well in September, and he's getting hot now."
In his third start since returning from a month-long stay on the disabled list with a bruised left wrist, Maholm struggled with his command at times and wasn't able to recapture the rhythm he found while pitching to contact over six innings of one-run ball last Wednesday against the Indians. But thanks to the exhibition at the plate put on by his teammates, Maholm earned his first win since June 30.
"Sometimes you go out there and you're not in rhythm, and you just have to battle, and today was one of those days," Maholm said. "Luckily, the offense put up so many runs, my five-and-dive wasn't a big deal."