The Braves have had a week to stew over their sweep at the hands of the Phillies in Atlanta, and they arrived at Citizens Bank Park ready to do something about it.
At least, Freddie Freeman did.
With the first two pitches that he saw, Freeman drove in four runs – on a three-run home run in the first inning and a run-scoring double in the second. The king of the “ambush” drove in all four of the Braves runs in a 4-2 series-opening win over the Phillies.
Freeman gave Julio Teheran a 4-0 lead to work with on Kyle Kendrick, a pitcher who has given the Braves fits. Teheran survived the only real threat the Phillies gave him in a two-run fourth inning by using one of his nine strikeouts to quell it.
“We all knew with Julio, giving him four in the first couple innings was probably enough with the way he pitches,” said Freeman, who went 3-for-5, feasting on some first-pitch strikes from Kendrick.
He’d entered the game with one extra-base hit in 18 at-bats off Kendrick. He got two in his first two swings, including his 13th home run of the year on a ball to center field caught by Phillies broadcaster Tom McCarthy, who was covering the game from center field.
“Well if it’s a strike, I’ll swing,” said Freeman of the first-pitch swings. “He was throwing strikes and I’m not a guy who’s going to let a strike go by. So I just swung and I got lucky and connected a couple times.”
The Braves had to sweat out multiple Phillies scoring threats in the eighth and ninth innings. But Jordan Walden struck out Ryan Howard with a 97 mph fastball to strand two runners in the eighth. And Craig Kimbrel survived a leadoff walk in the ninth, including a pitch that sailed up around Marlon Byrd’s head, and a John Mayberry Jr. drive to deep center caught by B.J. Upton, for his 23rd save.
“Four runs in the ballpark is nothing,” Braves manager Fredi Gonzalez said. “We’ve seen guys come back from these deficits all the time…I thought (Mayberry’s) ball had a chance to either be off the wall there or gone and B.J. made a nice play up against that wall.”
The Phillies had answered Freeman’s outburst with two runs in the fourth after Ben Revere led off the inning with a triple to the gap in right center field. It was his second of Revere’s three hits off Teheran, who allowed only three more to the rest of the Phillies lineup.
But Teheran gave up only two runs in the frame, including one that was unearned because of an Andrelton Simmons error, before re-establishing control. Teheran stranded runners at first and second by getting Mayberry to strike out swinging at a 3-2 fastball on the 11th pitch of an at-bat that included six foul balls.
“I was trying to just throw my pitch and everything I threw to him, he fouled off,” said Teheran, now 7-5 with a 2.34 ERA. “The last one I threw it with all my strength and that’s when I got a little bit fired (up.)”
Teheran pumped his fist as he walked off the mound, and proceeded to retire 10 of the next 11 batters he faced through his seven innings. Teheran allowed only six hits and walked none while throwing 74 of his 113 pitches for strikes.
“Julio stepped up and made pitches when he needed to,” said catcher Gerald Laird. “And that’s what the good ones do.”
For the second time this season, Laird had to do some last-minute catching duty for Teheran. Evan Gattis left the game after striking out in the first inning because of a spasm in his right rhomboid, the muscle in his upper back near his shoulder blade, and Laird entered to catch in the bottom of the first inning.
On May 20, Laird found out 10 minutes before first pitch that Gattis felt sick in the bullpen warming Teheran up. Laird and Teheran teamed up for a 5-0 shutout that night against the Brewers.
“(After batting practice) I went in and worked out,” Laird said of his routine Friday night. “Thank goodness I did that and got my blood flowing, then I went out there just to watch the game and that’s how it can happen. That’s the role that I’ve got to play. As soon as that happens, I’ve got to go in there and perform.”
The Braves had chances for add-on runs, but stranded a runner at third base in both the fourth and fifth innings. Kendrick finally got Freeman to swing and miss, striking him out to end the fourth and Chris Johnson hit into his team-leading 14th double play to end the fifth.
Revere scored the first Phillies run in the two-run fourth inning from third on a groundout by Jimmy Rollins. Then the Phillies prolonged the inning on a Howard groundball. Simmons took his eye off a throw from Dan Uggla at second base, perhaps thinking double play, and instead was charged with his sixth error of the season. The Phillies cut Teheran’s lead in half 4-2 after Byrd followed with an RBI single to left.