Alex Gonzalez brought the handfuls of dirt. Peter Moylan brought the cups of water. Everybody else just pounded Freddie Freeman into a celebratory submission and Baptism following his first career game-winning hit Sunday.
A win over the Washington Nationals normally wouldn’t seem like a cause for such a celebration, but these haven’t come easy. The Braves had to scramble and rally twice to beat a Nationals team that generally has been a punching bag since 2005 (459-607) but insists on punching back against Atlanta (the all-time series would’ve been tied at 59-59 with a different result Sunday).
But if you’re the Braves, this game was a good sign. They somehow turned an ugly sequence of events — including an improbable poor start by Jair Jurrjens — into a win. They trailed 6-2 before a five-run fifth, punctuated by Brian McCann’s three-run homer. They trailed 8-7 before the .226 hitting Nate McLouth hit his first homer in two months with two outs to tie it.
In the ninth, Freeman, the 21-year-old rookie, hit a two-out single to score Martin Prado to win it 9-8. Then came the dirt-and-water shower. Boys.
“I think it shows our character, and it shows how good our bullpen is,” said McCann.
The first series after the All-Star break only reaffirmed the Braves aren’t going anywhere. They remained 3½ games behind Philadelphia in the National League East and now head on the road for seven games. But they’ve got some decisions to makes, and one of those involves Monday’s starting pitcher in Colorado: Derek Lowe.
The baseball trade rumor mill has Lowe possibly sitting in the Braves’ departure lounge. The latest is a Foxsports.com story that indicates interest from Detroit. When asked if he could comment on the report, general manager Frank Wren smiled and responded, “Yeah. We don’t comment on any trade rumors.”
That’s true, of course. But if Wren had been asked about a rumor that McCann might be traded, the response would’ve been something along the lines of, “Are you nuts?”
Know this: There is interest in Lowe, and the Braves are listening. But this will be their most difficult decision before the trade deadline (July 31).
Wren hasn’t finalized what he is shopping for, but a right-handed hitter and a middle reliever are the team’s greatest needs. It’s both logical and risky that Lowe might be the bait.
First, the logic. He is the Braves’ highest paid player ($15 million per year) but has been only their fourth-best starter this season behind Jurrjens (Sunday not withstanding), Tommy Hanson and Tim Hudson. The organization also is pitching-rich again, which makes Lowe expendable.
Here’s the risk: Down the stretch and in the playoffs last season, Lowe was the Braves’ best pitcher. He won his last five regular season starts with a 1.17 earned run average, 29 strikeouts and three walks. He lost both of his National League Divisional Series starts to San Francisco but that was mostly a byproduct of the Braves’ offense: He allowed only three runs and six hits in 11 2/3 innings.
Lowe’s exit also would leave the Braves with a young rotation for the pennant stretch. Hudson is 36, but he’s followed by Jurrjens (25), Hanson (24) and Brandon Beachy (24). If Lowe goes, the fifth starter could be Mike Minor (23) or Julio Teheran (20).
Lowe and trade rumors have intersected frequently since his signing his four-year, $60 million contract. He was upset when his name was floated in the winter following his first season in Atlanta, telling MLB.com: “It’s well-documented that I stunk the last two months of the  season. But as I look at it, ‘Am I the only guy who has struggled for a couple of months in his first season after signing as a free agent?’”
He’s handling the rumors better this time. He joked in the clubhouse, “Hey, I’m going to the American League,” and told our Carroll Rogers, “Why stress over something that you have no control over? … People say we may need a hitter and we have a lot of pitching and I make money. So it’s kind of obvious why you’re named. And we have a lot of good young pitchers.”
Give him credit for laying out the logical argument that could lead to his own departure. Lowe’s contract is far more palatable for a trade partner now than it was last year. The Braves may need to make one more move, and using Lowe as the bait is starting to make too much sense.
By Jeff Schultz