Freddie Freeman had a quiet series in his native Southern California, trapped by a mini-slump while Josh Donaldson and Ronald Acuna sparked the Braves’ offense to a pair of wins.
That ended with one swing Sunday afternoon. Freeman snapped a scoreless tie with a massive three-run homer that put the Braves ahead in the eighth inning. Freeman, riding an 0-for-13 skid, came through when he was needed most.
“I had every aunt and uncle, every single person — niece, nephew, every grandparent — I had them all here,” Freeman said. “I finally got a hit for them.”
And so the Braves swept the Padres with the 4-1 win, opening the second half on a perfect note. It achieved the franchise’s first sweep in San Diego since 2006. Prior to the weekend, the Braves hadn’t even won a series at Petco Park since 2011.
Freeman’s homer, which came off Trey Wingenter, traveled 394 feet. It came after a night of varied heroics, when it seemed nearly everyone but Freeman played a key part in a 10-inning victory (he went 0-for-5 with a pair of strikeouts, making him the only member of the starting lineup not to collect a hit).
“I’ve been searching for that for a few weeks,” Freeman said of the homer. “I haven’t really felt good since D.C. (late June). It’s been a grind but this is why it’s a team game. It really is. They picked me up and I was able to come through when they needed me.”
Manager Brian Snitker lauded Freeman for working through his struggles, pointing out no matter how dire he might be lately, the team still expects the best results in every plate appearance.
“He had a rough series until that one,” Snitker said. “He’s Freddie Freeman. He’s capable of doing that every time. I don’t care how bad he’s doing. He’s still Freddie Freeman. … It’s always going to be a matter of time for him. At any point in time, he’s capable of getting on one of his runs and you jump on his back.”
Mike Soroka was at his best, striking out a career-high nine and walking only one. The youngest All-Star starter in team history, Soroka lowered his ERA to 2.24 as he begins his push for the NL Cy Young award. He held serve with friend and fellow Canadian rookie Cal Quantrill, who went six scoreless in his second outing against the Braves.
The Braves’ emerging right-hander didn’t do it alone. Manny Machado appeared to have a two-run homer in the fifth, but Acuna dashed and caught the ball slamming into the wall, robbing Machado and prompting a literal hat tip from his pitcher.
“I thought he caught it but I wasn’t sure if he came down with it,” Soroka said. “Aside from the catch Charlie (Culberson) made last year in Toronto, that’s the best play I’ve probably been on the field for. Best outfield catch at least. It’s incredible because I got to see him do that a couple times in (Rookie league) Danville, (Single-A) Rome, all the way up. So to have him bring that one back was incredible.”
Soroka appreciated the mid-70s and breezy conditions in a day game, noting that won’t be the case the rest of the season in Atlanta and the several upcoming northeast trips. His change-up was especially sharp. He was efficient at 83 pitches before he was pulled for pinch-hitter Matt Joyce, whose single began the four-run eighth.
It was the second scoreless start of seven or more innings in Soroka’s career. He hasn’t suffered a loss in his last 15 starts (nine wins), the longest such streak in the National League.
“Who cares about the rookie of the year,” Freeman said. “I think he’s right in it for the Cy Young. Ten and one (record) with a 2.00 (ERA). What else do you have to do? For him to be 21 and doing that, it makes it even more special to me.”
The Braves have completed all their west coast trips for the regular season. They’ll play three in Milwaukee before returning to SunTrust Park for their first homestand of the second half.
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