WASHINGTON – Nearly 23 months ago, the Braves won a game at Nationals Park. They didn’t do that again until Friday, when they snapped a 14-game losing skid that was the franchise’s longest at any ballpark in more than 60 years.
Freddie Freeman drove in four runs with a double and a three-run homer in a 8-5 win against the Nationals and Stephen Strasburg to open a three-game series. It was the first time the Braves won at Nationals Park since Sept. 10, 2014, when Aaron Harang was the winning pitcher and Strasburg the loser.
In between those two games, Strasburg was 5-0 with a 0.85 ERA in five starts against the Braves, including two wins at Nationals Park.
“Strasburg’s been unbelievable all year,” Freeman said of the National League wins leader, who lost for only the third time in 18 decisions. “To come out and get on him early was a good thing for us, and Folty gave us five-plus strong innings, the bullpen is really coming into their own and the offense picked it up and had a good game.”
Mike Foltynewicz (6-5) was effective enough, allowing five hits, four runs and two walks in 5 2/3 innings and also hitting a double high off the right-field scoreboard to start the fifth inning. “Folty” trailed 3-2 after four innings, but Freeman’s three-run homer off Strasburg in the fifth put the Braves ahead to stay.
Jace Peterson also homered off Strasburg to start the third inning, and Anthony Recker added a two-run in the sixth inning on the first pitch from reliever Matt Belisle to push the lead to 7-3.
“The offense came out and attacked one of the best pitchers in baseball; they got me an early lead,” Foltynewicz said. “I kind of gave it up there for a minute, but I knew this (Braves) team, they way they’ve been hitting I knew they were going to get some runs. So I just kept attacking, getting the ball down. I made some really good pitches and I made some really bad pitches at the same time.”
It was Recker’s first homer and Freeman’s 22nd, leaving the big first baseman one shy of matching his career high. All six of Peterson’s homers have come in his past 45 games, and he also had a bases-loaded sacrifice fly.
Freeman, who also had an RBI double in the first inning, improved to 14-for-34 (.412) with four homers and 13 RBIs in his career against Strasburg. Jace Peterson also homered off Strasburg leading off the second inning.
The Braves have won 11 of 17 games including seven of 10 road games. They are 5-3 on a 10-game trip that concludes with two more against the Nationals.
They still have baseball’s worst record (44-72), but the Braves are 26-26 since June 15.
“We’ve faced some pretty good pitching over the course of the summer, but the guys are never down, they’re never out,” Snitker said. “They’ve been beat over the head for the majority of the season, but they come, they prepare, they grind out at-bats and leave it all on the field. And the record is no indication of how I feel this team is or the way those guys play.”
It was just the second win for the Braves in their past 20 games at Nationals Park, where their 14-game skid since the beginning of the 2015 season had been the franchise’s longest since the Boston Braves lost 13 in a row at Brooklyn’s Ebbets Field in 1951-1952.
Friday marked the second time the Braves scored more than four runs in the past 15 games at Nationals Park, the other in an 8-6 loss on May 9, 2105.
In addition to Strasburg’s sub-1.00 ERA during the five-start winning streak against the Braves, he had 31 strikeouts, seven walks and no homers allowed in 31 2/3 innings. But his results Friday – 5 1/3 innings, seven hits, six runs — were more similar to the five-game stretch he’d had against the Braves immediately before his winning streak against them.
He was 0-3 with a 7.66 ERA and seven homers allowed in just 22 1/3 innings in those previous five, a couple of those games in oppressively hot conditions even worse than the 94 degrees and high humidity at Friday’s first pitch. Strasburg memorably succumbed to the weather in one afternoon game at Atlanta when the temperature soared above 100.
Strasburg is 0-3 with a 9.00 ERA in his past three home starts, after going 7-0 with a 2.86 ERA in his first 10. He’s 2-3 with a 5.27 ERA in his past five overall, after going 13-0 with a 2.51 ERA and .195 opponents’ average in his first 17 starts.
In Foltynewicz’s first career appearance against Nationals, he didn’t have to face injured Bryce Harper, though the way the reigning National League MVP has slumped in recent weeks it might not have been a bad time to see him.
Freeman entered Friday with a .317 career average and .394 OBP in 47 games against the Nationals, though he was 1-for-22 (.045) with one RBI in his past nine games against them, that hit an opening-day home run against Max Scherzer in Freeman’s first at-bat of the season.
But he’s wielded a hot bat two months, including a two-homer game Wednesday at Milwaukee. His homer off Strasburg was Freeman’s fourth on the trip and 13th in 54 games, during which he’s hit .330 with 37 extra-base hits and 35 RBIs.