Mark Bradley: The great Freddie Freeman carries his Braves into the NLCS

By Mark Bradley

ATLANTA — A careening Game 4 was set right at the end. With one majestic swing, the noblest Brave of all sent a Josh Hader slider flying deep into the night. It carried over the wall in center field, and it carried these Braves, the team that took forever to break .500, into the National League Championship Series for a second consecutive season. Freddie Freeman did what he has been doing for a decade, though never in a moment quite like this.

The Braves won this game, 5-4, on Tuesday night and this NL Division Series, 3-1. They won seven fewer games than the Brewers over the regular season, but never in the series did Milwaukee seem the better side. The Braves got hot when they needed to get hot, and they’ll face the Dodgers or the Giants in the next round riding the lightning. They believe they can beat anyone. They may well be right.

Game 4 came as a relief: Something finally happened. Not to sound persnickety, but there hadn’t been much to games 1-3. The team that scored first won. In Games 2 and 3, the team that scored won. The winning side in games 1 and 3 got all its runs on one swing. They was a lot of swinging and missing, some bad base running and a heapin’ helpin’ of pitchin’ – which is standard fare for October, but it doesn’t make for must-see TV.

Game 4 was different. Game 4 was wild. For the second day running, the Braves’ Adam Duvall took off running and handed his team an inexplicable out. The umpires huddled to review an adjudged foul out — one of the few foul outs to feature an assist, the ball having bounded from catcher Omar Narvaez’s mitt to third baseman Luis Urias’ glove, or did it? — and then decided they couldn’t overturn the non-catch because you’re not allowed to review infield catches. Got that?

The talking point before Tuesday’s game involved Charlie Morton, who started Game 1 three days ago in Milwaukee. Braves manager Brian Snitker opted to bring Morton back on short, which made some sense, given that Morton has been terrific in postseasons of late. At 3:41 p.m., an MLB press release sent us in the press box scurrying for our keyboards. The Braves’ Jorge Soler had tested positive for COVID-19. This affected the batting order, Dansby Swanson being redeployed as a leadoff man, and the outfield, Guillermo Heredia getting a start.

Back to Morton. He wasn’t as sharp as in Game 1 — that can happen with short rest — and exited after 3 1/3 innings, at which point Game 4 went nuts.

The Brewers fashioned an actual rally against Morton and then Jesse Chavez, giving them a 2-0 lead. The Braves tied the score forthwith, chasing Milwaukee starter Eric Lauer and giving this series its first tie that wasn’t 0-0. Milwaukee responded with another massive two-run homer by Rowdy Tellez — say this for Tellez: When he hits one, it stays hit — off a Huascar Ynoa slider that fit the industry description of a “cement mixer,” in that it spins slowly until it gets whacked.

Back came the Braves. There was nothing majestic about their second two-run inning. They loaded the bases on an infield single, a walk and a hit batsman. They cut the lead to 4-3 on Joc Pederson’s groundout. (The pinch-hitting, pearl-wearing star of the series had finally gotten a start.) They tied it on Travis d’Arnaud’s smash that ducked under Tellez’s first-baseman’s mitt.

At this point, play was suspended so everyone could take a snap. OK, I made that up. But the series that saw nine runs scored in Games 1-3 had just offered eight in two innings. Everybody was a bit winded, and the pace of play showed it. The first four innings took more than 2 1/2 hours.

At least the series had gotten interesting. The Brewers were fighting to play a Game 5 in Milwaukee. The Braves were laboring to get this over with. When Freddie Freeman and Ozzie Albies singled in the sixth, Milwaukee manager Craig Counsell turned to his bullpen for the third time on the night, but the pitcher who appeared was Brandon Woodruff, starter and loser of Game 2.

This marked Woodruff’s first relief stint since 2018, and the batter he faced was familiar — Austin Riley, who hit a home run off him in Saturday’s Game 2. (So: two days’ rest!) Woodruff threw one pitch. Riley topped it to third. Inning over. Still 4-all.

The game had begun at 5:16 in sunshine. By now it was long past dark. Come the eighth, Counsell turned to Josh Hader, who’s usually only a ninth-inning man. Hader struck out Eddie Rosario and Swanson. Up stepped Freeman, big lefty hitter against big lefty pitcher. Hader opened with a slider. Freeman was dead on it, sending it flying over fence in dead center.

Most every swing this man takes is a thing of beauty. This was a work of art. Said Counsell: “It was their best against our best ... It’s how our game is. It’s how our game should be.”


What is inkl?

Important stories

See news based on value, not advertising potential. Get the latest news from around the world.

Trusted newsrooms

We bring you reliable news from the world’s most experienced journalists in the most trusted newsrooms.

Ad-free reading

Read without interruptions, distractions or intrusions of privacy.