The adrenaline, Freddie Freeman said, was beginning to fade, which meant he was “starting to hurt from all the jumping around.” Somebody had stomped on his toe, and somebody else had yanked his elbow, and the 21-year-old was old and wise enough to know the aching would only get worse.
“We’ll see how it is in about two hours,” Freeman said, but he was smiling through the pain. Beat the game’s most feared closer — well, the most feared if you don’t count Mariano Rivera — when you’re down to your last strike and you’ll take the celebratory damage that comes with it.
Two out, bottom of the ninth, bases loaded, Braves down a run, Brian Wilson staring through his facial foliage. Does it get any better than that? For Freddie Freeman, it hasn’t yet. The winning single he drove up the middle was, he said, the best moment of his major-league career — “so far.” And it was a fairly momentous turn for his ballclub.
Lose and the Braves’ lead over the Giants in the wild-card standings would have been three games. Instead it’s five. The Braves got a bit lucky in the ninth — Jose Constanza beat out a grounder to shortstop that Orlando Cabrera bobbled; it should have been called an error but wasn’t — but they were unlucky to have been trailing in the first place. That they snatched back a game they’d all but thrown away suggests they’re made of stern stock.
“It’s huge,” Freeman said. “It’s a two-game swing. To win the first game of the [four-game] series is big.”
Well, yes. And to have beaten the bearded Wilson has to do wonders for a team’s self-esteem. The Braves had fooled around and lost two winnable games against the Cubs over the weekend. On Monday they beat a better team that had much to gain. “Like a playoff game,” Freeman called it, and it felt close enough.
About Wilson: “Seeing him run in from the bullpen and hearing people in our ballpark react got us pumped up,” Freeman said. Still, the furry closer was one strike from closure. He jumped ahead of Freeman 1-2 in the count, whereupon the rookie took two pitches, which isn’t always the Rookie Way at such a loaded moment.
“You know what you’re going to get with him,” Freeman said. “It’s either going to be 91 mph [a cut fastball] or 96 [a two-seamer].”
On 3-2, Freeman got the two-seamer. He’d struck out on a similar pitch earlier this season, but Wilson got this one a tad lower, and Freddie Freeman can darn sure turn on a low ball. “It was middle, middle in,” Freeman said, and then it was bounding into the outfield and the Braves were running around and Brian McCann was squeezing the rookie between first and second base and then everybody else was joining the pummel party.
“Right when I hit it, I knew we were scoring both runs,” Freeman said, and Wilson knew it, too. He didn’t bother backing up any bases. He just started trudging toward the dugout, a beaten beard this night.
For the past month two men have been carrying this lineup — Dan Uggla, who’s 31, and Freeman, who’s barely of legal age. Uggla had taken his cuts against Wilson and whiffed. Freeman put bat on ball and won the ol’ game.
Someone asked if Wilson was indeed a daunting figure to face. Freeman smiled. “It’s just his persona,” he said, using a nice word. But the callow Freeman has a bit of a beard himself, and with every week opponents are learning to Fear The Freddie. Because the potential inherent in this young man is scary.
By Mark Bradley