Heyward’s 4 hits, Freeman’s 3-run homer key Braves’ win over Marlins

After the Braves failed to score when they loaded the bases with one out in the fourth inning, Justin Upton’s failed bunt with two on and none out in the fifth had plenty of Braves fans wondering if a winning-streak hangover might be setting in.

But Freddie Freeman was up next, and he eased concerns quickly with a three-run homer that erased a two-run deficit and sent the Braves toward a 9-4 win against the Marlins on a sunny Sunday afternoon at Turner Field.

The Marlins scored a tying run in the sixth inning, but the Braves erupted for four runs in the seventh and clinched a fifth consecutive series with their 17th win in 20 games. They had a 14-game winning streak snapped in a 1-0 loss Saturday, and the Freeman homer was just what the Braves needed after falling behind 3-1 through four innings Sunday.

“We lose 1-0 (Saturday) on a wild pitch,” Braves manager Fredi Gonzalez said, “and the way we started (Sunday) it was like ‘oh, it’s going to be one of those days.’ But these guys battle. They’re tough. They like to play. They like to compete.”

Jason Heyward matched a career-high with four hits and Evan Gattis had three hits including a pair of doubles for the Braves, who improved their major league-best record to 72-46 and their home record to 40-16, also the majors’ best. Upton left the game with a hamstring cramp, but hoped to be back in the lineup Monday.

“They kept fighting back, and we were able to overcome that,” Heyward said. “I feel really confident at home especially, holding the game close, down by one or two, that we can come out with a win.”

Mike Minor (12-5) recovered from a three-run second inning – defense didn’t help him much that inning – to win his third consecutive decision and fourth home start in a row. He was charged with six hits and four runs in seven innings, with one walk and six strikeouts.

“I thought he was outstanding,” Gonzalez said. “We got him in the hole a little bit, but he battled. He gave us seven strong innings. That’s where the good ones stick around.”

After B.J. Upton put the Braves ahead with a line-drive sacrifice fly in the seventh, Gattis hit an RBI double off the center-field wall. The Marlins had intentionally walked Freeman with one out and first base open. Chris Johnson followed Gattis with a two-run double for an 8-4 lead.

Freeman’s opposite-field homer in the fifth raised his team-leading RBI total to 79 and his average with runners in scoring position to .452, second in the majors. It was his 14th home run and came with his grandparents in attendance along with an aunt and cousin, all visiting from California.

“My aunt and cousin are here for a tennis tournament, and my grandparents come out here to see me,” he said. “So it was nice to be able to do something for them today.”

It was also the first homer allowed all season by Marlins starter Henderson Alvarez in his 50th inning.

“He’s tough hitter, a guy that doesn’t stand at the plate to swing at bad pitches,” Alvarez said. “He’s the best I’ve faced in this league. It’s difficult to strike him out. It’s tough to get him out.”

Justin Upton surprised everyone by bunting in the fifth — he made the decision on his own, hoping to load the bases for Freeman — and Minor was thrown out at third on the play. Upton’s hamstring tightened after he ran to first.

He was replaced by pinch-runner B.J. Upton, his brother. B.J. played center field and Jordan Schafer moved to left field.

The Braves led the NL in fielding percentage (.993) during the winning streak, but defense was anything but crisp in Sunday’s second inning.

After Ed Lucas doubled and scored on Jake Marisnick’s two-out single, Koyie Hill hit a pop to shallow right field that second baseman Dan Uggla lost in the sun. Hill ended up with a single to put runners on the corners. Alvarez followed by lining a two-run double over left fielder Justin Upton, who got a bad jump on the ball.

Gattis led off the second with a ground-rule double and scored on Uggla’s sacrifice fly to cut the lead to 3-1. And after the Braves wasted a bases-loaded situation in the fourth, Freeman gave them a jolt.