If ever there was such a thing as happy tired, Freddie Freeman embodied it. The Braves’ 24-year-old first baseman, who had just played four games in 48 hours, shuffled to his seat in the visiting clubhouse at Citizens Bank Park Sunday afternoon and groaned as he plopped down.
Still he managed to smile as he looked up at approaching reporters, because he and the Braves had just completed their first four-game sweep in Philadelphia since 1964 with a 3-2 win.
“No matter what, it’s great,” said Freeman, who like Andrelton Simmons and Justin Upton played every inning, including Saturday’s split-doubleheader. “It was a great road trip. Just to come out here after that long day yesterday and get another win. And Ranger was unbelievable today, Mel with the big hit and the bullpen shut it down.”
Ranger would be Aaron Harang, who regrouped after giving up nine runs to the Phillies two starts ago, to work supreme damage control. He gave up two runs on a pair of Marlon Byrd solo home runs, but nothing else despite allowing 11 hits.
Mel would be Melvin Emanuel Upton, better known as B.J., who continued to do good work in the leadoff spot with a two-run triple in the second inning. He did the heavy lifting in another workmanlike day at the plate for the Braves, who scored 18 of their 22 runs in the series without the benefit of a home run.
And the bullpen – this time Shae Simmons and Craig Kimbrel – put the finishing touches on the sweep. Simmons pitched a perfect eighth against the bottom of the order, and Kimbrel pitched around two-out trouble from the top in the ninth for his 24th save.
Kimbrel coaxed a flyout from Chase Utley, who’d reached 1,500 career hits in his previous at-bat, to strand runners at second and third. That left the Phillies 3-for-32 (.094) with runners in scoring position for the series. The Braves held them to eight runs in four games to get the last word in a stretch of seven games in 14 days against their old NL East rival.
“They came into our house right before we took off and knocked us back a little bit,” Harang said.
The Braves hadn’t swept a four-game series in Philadelphia since Sept. 24-27, 1964, when the Phillies played at Connie Mack Stadium, and the Braves headed home to Milwaukee to play the Mets. On Sunday, the Braves headed home to Atlanta to play the Mets, riding the high of an 8-3 record on their longest road trip of the year.
After dropping two in Washington to split a four-game series and fall out of first place, the Braves won six of seven in Houston and Philadelphia to move back ahead of the Nationals by one-half game.
“To win a four-game set is incredible,” Braves manager Fredi Gonzalez said. “We pitched well the whole series and we swung that bats and had some timely hitting. I’m proud of the guys. Coming in here and playing four games in three nights and doing it in that fashion, pitching and timely offense, you can’t ask for anything more than that.”
The Braves manufactured three runs in the first four innings off Atlanta native David Buchanan, who grew up in Fayette County a fan of the Braves. Then they sat back and watched Harang give a clinic on pitching calm in a storm.
Twice the Phillies got the tying run to third base, and they put two on with nobody out in the seventh. No matter, for Harang. He used a pair of double plays and one gutsy fastball to Byrd to keep the lead 3-2.
Byrd came to the plate in the fifth with runners at the corners and two outs having homered in his previous two at-bats. Harang got him to ground out on a first-pitch fastball to end the threat.
“I had a good idea he was probably going to come out and try to be aggressive,” said Harang, which was a nice way of saying swing for the fences. “So I was able to get the fastball down in the zone a little bit that time and get him to hit it on the ground.”
In the sixth, Harang got John Mayberry Jr. to bounce out to third base to start a double play. Then, for his finale in the seventh, after Utley 1,500th hit put runners at the corners, Harang got Ryan Howard to ground into the shift for a double play.
“It all comes down to executing that pitch when you really need it,” Harang said.
Harang executed at the plate too. His two-out single prolonged the second inning for Upton, who tripled to center to extend his hitting streak to six-games since moving into the leadoff spot. Tommy La Stella got his fourth extra-base hit in three games and scored on a Gerald Laird double.
“Normally a little out of character for us, (but) you can see we haven’t really hit that many home runs,” Upton said. “But we’ve pieced together some hits when we’ve needed to, especially with runners in scoring position. Good baserunning. The bullpen’s been great. Starting pitching has been great. It’s all coming together.”
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