Freddie Freeman’s walk-off home run late Monday was his third game-winning hit in as many nights for the Braves.
ATLANTA — Freddie Freeman has become known around the Atlanta Braves’ dugout for his celebratory hugs. On Monday night, the big first baseman was on the receiving end of the embraces.
It’s becoming a habit lately for the red-hot slugger.
With Monday night’s two-run homer with one out in the ninth inning to lift the Braves past the Mets, 2-1, Freeman now has three walk-off hits this month.
“He left a cutter out over the plate,” Freeman said of Gee’s final pitch. “I didn’t know if it was going to stay fair. I was just trying to keep (the rally) going.”
Freeman’s teammates haven’t had any trouble jumping on board with his new role as hero.
“He’s awesome, man,” said Braves pitcher Tim Hudson, who got the start after a nearly four-hour rain delay. “Just like a Little Leaguer out there, the way he’s playing. He’s like the Little Leaguer that shaves already. ... He’s Kelly from Bad News Bears, riding up on his motorcycle and smoking heaters. That’s Freddie right now.”
After Justin Upton’s one-out single in the ninth, Freeman turned a 2-2 slider into a towering homer to the right-field seats to give the Braves’ their National “I really was just trying to look for a pitch out over (the plate),” Freeman said, “so I could hook it through the hole at first base, to see if we could get first and third with Evan (Gattis) coming up. I really was trying to pull the ball right there, but I was able to lift one out at the same time.”
The few thousand fans remaining from an announced crowd of 22,048 reacted almost as giddily as Braves players, who stormed the field to mob Freeman. The Braves won for the 16th time in their past 19 home games and snapped Dillon Gee’s three-start winning streak.
“Yeah, well, 1:30 in the morning,” Braves manager Fredi Gonzalez said. “I think the best two swings we’ve taken off Gee were the last two with Justin and then Freeman. He had us baffled the whole night. Good for us that we had Freeman there at the last at-bat.”
Until the ninth inning, it looked like one glaring mistake by Hudson — a two-out, RBI single by Gee in the seventh — would be enough for the Mets.
Hudson’s had hard luck in June, to put it mildly, but Freeman made sure he didn’t lose a third consecutive start. Gee had allowed only three runs in 29 innings in June until Freeman launched a cut fastball where no one could catch it.
“I knew I hit it good enough,” he said. “I didn’t know if it was going to stay fair actually, because it was an inside pitch and I didn’t know if I was able to get my hands inside. But once I saw it get up to its peak height, I knew it was gone.”
Hudson allowed six hits, one run and three walks with six strikeouts in seven innings, and has allowed one or no earned runs in three of his four June starts. The Braves have scored a total of three runs during the 28-2/3 innings that he’s been in those games.
The managers didn’t exchange lineup cards until 10:47 p.m., and Hudson threw the first pitch at 10:53. He had warmed up just before 10 p.m. when it was announced the game would start shortly, and ended up sitting around for another 40 minutes after the start was delayed even longer. The 37-year-old threw the equivalent of one simulated inning in that period to stay loose.
“It was a bad situation for both teams, honestly,” Hudson said. “For the pitchers and for the position players. But you’ve got to go out there and play it. Luckily we came out on top. Gee had a great game. He pitched really well. He didn’t really give us any opportunities, and he just made one mistake right there at the end. Cost him the game.”
It was the longest rain delay and latest start to a game at Turner Field since a Braves-Marlins game June 28, 2004, which was delayed 3 hours, 20 minutes before the first pitch, and ended at 1:24 a.m. The Braves won, 6-1, getting six innings of three-hit pitching from John Thomson and a two-run, third-inning homer from J.D. Drew.
“It is difficult to sit around for hours and hours and hours,” said then-Braves manager Bobby Cox after the 2004 game. “I told my guys, ‘We’ve really got to hustle tonight.’ And they did.”
On that summer night in 2004, Cox’s Braves used the win to pull within 3-1/2 games of division co-leaders Florida and Philadelphia. On Monday, Gonzalez’s first-place Braves knew Philadelphia had already beaten second-place Washington 5-4, in a game that was shown on the massive Turner Field video board during the rain delay.
The Braves moved to 7-1/2 games ahead of the Nationals, with the Phillies one game behind Washington.