Before the final inning, the Braves had three hits, with only one since the sixth. It was an all-time display of offensive ineptitude: The teams combined to strike out 37 times, a postseason record, while drawing only five walks. The Braves were 1-for-10 with runners in scoring position. The Reds were 1-for-12.
It was the first MLB postseason game to go into extra innings scoreless since Game 6 of the 1997 American League Championship Series. It was the first postseason game ever to enter the 12th inning scoreless.
Here’s history the Braves will welcome: It’s the first time they’ve won a Game 1 since 2001, which also was the year of their last postseason series victory. They’re one win from advancing to the National League Division Series, thanks to their - and perhaps the league’s - MVP.
“I think me and some of the coaching staff are the only ones who know the history of us losing Game 1 and it not going well in the series,” Freeman said. “I think some of these guys are too young to really understand the history of the Braves and the postseason, but I am not one of those. I know what’s going on. Getting Game 1 is huge, so hopefully we can come out here, ride that wave tomorrow, get the second win and move on.”
The extra-inning session was ridden with excruciatingly poor swings and missed opportunities. The Reds had runners at the corners with none out in the 12th; they struck out three times against Tyler Matzek. Travis d’Arnaud singled to open the Braves' half of the inning, yet the team couldn’t get him past second. In fact, the Braves' leadoff man reached in four of the final five innings.
In the top of the 13th inning, Cincinnati loaded the bases with two singles and a walk. A strikeout and ground out later, the Braves were again out of a jam. It continued a frustrating trend for the Reds, who left the bases loaded in the 11th and 13th while stranding runners at the corners in the 12th. They went 0-for-5 with three strikeouts when there was a runner at third with less than two outs.
Yet the Braves offense, which scored the second most runs in the regular season, couldn’t capitalize. It felt destined to be another Atlanta sports gut punch. A home loss in which the team struck out 21 times, didn’t have a hit with runners in scoring position and saw its franchise-record offense look completely discombobulated sounds right up their alley.
More specifically, the Braves' missed chances were reminiscent of the NLDS Game 4 last October, when they were 0-for-9 with runners in scoring position and lost to the Cardinals by one run. This time, after also going 0-for-9 in the same situation, they produced the one hit they needed.
It came from Freeman, who was 0-for-3 with a walk and hit by pitch entering the at-bat. Nick Markakis and Austin Riley set him up with singles against Archie Bradley. Ronald Acuna hit into a force out, and it looked like the Braves could once again squander a scoring opportunity.
Amir Garrett became the seventh Reds pitcher of the game when he replaced Bradley. Four pitches later, Freeman lined a ball to center field, scoring pinch-runner Cristian Pache and adding another memorable moment to Braves postseason history.
“It’s the guy we want up there,” manager Brian Snitker said. “The guy he got the hit off of (Garrett) is tough as nails on lefties. We had our best lefty up there against their best lefty reliever. They were going 1-on-1 and Freddie won that battle.”
Credit: Curtis Compton / Curtis.Compton@
Credit: Curtis Compton / Curtis.Compton@
Explaining his at-bat, Freeman said: “I was trying to hit a sac fly. Just trying to get something up. The shadows were absolutely horrible. I’m just glad he was able to hang a couple sliders there. I fouled off a couple I thought I should’ve hit prior to that. You get into that situation, try to see a ball up and hit it into the outfield, especially when they have five infielders.
"My goal was to get the ball up in the air and deep enough that Pache could score. He left one up enough that I could hit it into center field.”
Wednesday marked the ninth walk-off victory in Braves postseason history and the first since 2004, when Rafael Furcal’s two-run homer topped the Astros. It was the first walk-off in a previously scoreless postseason game since the A’s defeated the Tigers 1-0 in Game 2 of the 2013 AL Division Series.
In some ways, such a win provides more relief than jubilation around these parts. The Atlanta faithful has come to expect losses in contests such as these. If it wasn’t for the potential National League MVP, that might’ve been the case again.
Freeman could join illustrious company as one of three players to win a regular-season MVP and have a walk-off postseason hit in the same season. Joe Morgan in 1975 and Kirk Gibson in 1988 are the only individuals to do so, according to STATS.
If his past comments are an indication, Freeman will cherish Wednesday more than any individual award. In his 11-year career, he hasn’t advanced in the postseason. He called this season “World Series or bust” in February, and while much has changed from then to Wednesday, the goal remains the same.
“You’re going to have to win these kind of games in the playoffs,” Freeman said. “These are the kind of wins that can propel you going forward and give you that momentum.”
The Braves hope that’s the case Thursday, when they can put nearly two decades of failure behind them - with Freeman leading the way.