Freddie Freeman hit the biggest home run of his life Tuesday night to officially put 2011's September collapse in the past and secure a playoff berth for the Atlanta Braves. Freeman's walk-off two-run home run in the ninth inning gave the Braves a 4-3 win over the Miami Marlins in the series opener.
Just a year ago, Freeman was throwing his helmet after grounding into a season-ending double play to complete the Braves' collapse. This year, he may have run faster than he ever has when he circled the bases after his game-winning shot off Mike Dunn to secure the Braves' first postseason appearance since 2010 and Fredi Gonzalez's first playoff appearance as a Major League manager.
“It’s huge. A lot of vindication, a lot of relief in this clubhouse after last year for us to clinch a spot and give ourselves an opportunity at the postseason," Chipper Jones said. "That’s all you can ask for coming out of spring training every year.”
The decisive ninth inning only lasted two batters. Down 3-2, Jones started the inning by driving a double to right-center off Dunn. The first pitch from Dunn got under Rob Brantly's glove to move Chipper to third. Two pitches later, Freeman belted a fastball 428 feet to dead center.
“This is the coolest thing that’s ever happened to me," Freeman said.
Kris Medlen put together another strong outing over seven innings, though he was victimized by Donovan Solano for the first two homers of his career. Solano entered the game with 251 at-bats before finally going yard twice in three at-bats.
The first of Solano's homers came in the second inning as a solo shot to give the Marlins a 1-0 lead. He gave the Marlins the lead again in the seventh on a two-run shot after Greg Dobbs snapped a streak of 10 straight retired batters by Medlen, who gave up three runs over seven innings while striking out eight.
The comeback win was also the Braves' 22nd straight win during a game started by Medlen.
In the first game of his final homestand, Jones was in some way responsible for three of the Braves four runs. He started in the second inning by drawing a walk, moving to second on Freeman's single and scoring on a Dan Uggla RBI-single off Nathan Eovaldi. He also gave the Braves a brief 2-1 lead in the sixth when his sacrifice fly plated Jason Heyward after Heyward hit a triple.
Of course, the double was Chipper's biggest hit of the night.
“You knew…Chipper has done it all year," Freeman said. "That’s what he’s a Hall of Famer for. He got the rally started today. For us to win this game right now, how 2011, 2012 has come full circle it’s a great moment and it’s a great moment for this team. But we still have a long way to go because we’re not out of the division yet.”
The National League East is very much still within the Braves' grasp. With eight games left, the Washington Nationals now lead by four games after their loss to the Philadelphia Phillies. The Nationals' magic number to clinch is five, with that being any combination of Nationals wins and Braves losses.
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