When the Cubs intentionally walked Justin Upton to bring up Freddie Freeman in the 10th inning, let’s just say the Braves weren’t upset.
Freeman’s first-pitch single scored Jason Heyward from second to give the Braves a 3-2 walkoff win in a series opener Friday night at Turner Field, after Julio Teheran pitched eight dominant innings and Craig Kimbrel blew a save.
“It puts a smile on my face,” Freeman said of the Cubs intentionally walking Upton with first base open and none out. “It kind of fires you up, if you’re not fired up already going into the bottom of the inning, to hit a walk-off. When they walk someone intentionally to get to you, it definitely lights a fire under your butt.”
It was just the second win in 10 games for the Braves, who have scored 20 runs in their past 11 games. Freeman has had 10th-inning walk-off hits in two of the team’s past three wins. His 10th-inning hit April 27 against the Reds gave the Braves a 1-0 win in another game where Teheran dominated for eight innings and got no decision.
He allowed just one hit and one run in eight innings Friday, and retired 17 consecutive batters between Mike Olt’s leadoff homer in the third inning and Olt’s two-out walk in the eighth.
“He did awesome,” said Chris Johnson, whose three hits included a two-run single in the third inning. “(Teheran) is a stud. It’s more shocking when (a blown save) happens to Craig, because most of the time you’re thinking this game’s over. But he’s still the best closer in the game.”
Teheran had nine strikeouts and two walks and threw 64 strikes in 105 pitches. He has a 1.71 ERA in eight starts this season, but only a 2-2 record to show for it.
“Oh, my gosh, he was unbelievable,” Freeman said. “He keeps doing it night in and night out. What he’s been doing, he’s the ace of our staff and he’s pitching like it.”
It’s been a month since the Braves scored more than two runs while Teheran was in a game, so he has become used to pitching with little or no margin for error. He has a 1.15 ERA in his past four starts, and a 1-1 record. The Braves’ run totals while he was in those five games: 1, 2, 0, 1, 2.
“Sometimes you do your best, you throw your best game and you don’t get the win,” Teheran said. “It’s a good thing that we won again, and that’s what matters.”
He left with a 2-1 lead, and Kimbrel gave up a run on two hits in a span of the first three batters in the ninth to send the game to extra innings. The Braves improved to 4-1 in extra-inning games, while the Cubs fell to 1-4.
Heyward walked to start the 10th inning and stole second base. That opened first base, so the Cubs had left-hander Wesley Wright walk Upton to bring up Freeman for the lefty vs. lefty matchup. The Braves’ best hitter ambushed him, hitting the first pitch for a single to shallow center field that brought in Heyward and brought the Braves storming from the dugout to celebrate.
Freeman leads the Braves with a .387 average (12-for-31) with runners in scoring position, while Upton is 6-for-34 (.176) with 18 strikeouts. But having first base open was enough for Cubs manager Rick Renteria to go with the lefty vs. lefty matchup.
On April 19 at New York, the Mets intentionally walked Freeman in the ninth inning to bring up Upton, who hit a decisive three-run homer in a 7-5 win.
“Sometimes you’ve got to pick your poison and they felt they had a better matchup with Freeman than they did with Justin Upton,” Braves manager Fredi Gonzalez said. “Every night, us managers make those type of decisions and they’re not easy. Sometimes the pitcher or the hitter bails you out and sometimes they don’t. Either way he went there it was a tough one.”
Johnson was asked what he was thinking when the Cubs walked Upton to get to Freeman.
“Tough question,” he said. “I mean, I think Freddie’s the best hitter in the National League, so…it’s a tough move, but he wanted the left-hander. I played with Wesley Wright, too. He’s pretty good against left-handed hitters. He’s the manager of that team and that’s what he wanted to do.”
Alex Wood (3-5) got the win in his first relief appearance of the season. He gave up a leadoff single in the 10th and then retired the next three batters including two strikeouts.
Johnson’s two-out single in the third inning provided a 2-1 lead and Teheran had no trouble making it stand while he was in the game. The same couldn’t be said for Kimbrel, who got his second blown save in 11 opportunities this season.
After a leadoff single by Chris Coghlan in the ninth, a groundout advanced the runner before Ryan Kalish hit a game-tying single to left field. Justin Upton booted it for an error, allowing Kalish to reach second. Kalish advanced on another groundout and Kimbrel walked Starlin Castro to put runners on the corners before getting out of the inning. But the damage had been done, another potential win wiped off Teheran’s ledger.
The Braves’ Nos. 3-5 hitters – Freeman, Evan Gattis, Johnson – had eight of the team’s nine hits. Freeman got a two-out walk in the first inning and a two-out single in the third, and in each inning Gattis and Johnson followed him with consecutive singles.