MIAMI – Braves manager Fredi Gonzalez isn’t much for hugs in baseball, but he knows that his big first baseman most certainly is. Freddie Freeman is, in fact, known for starting the whole hug craze with the Braves, who have personalized versions of hugs for almost any time one of them has a home run or a big hit.
So on Saturday, with Freeman having gone 0-for-28 with one walk and 12 strikeouts in the first seven games against the Marlins this season, Gonzalez did something that Freddie and not Fredi is comfortable doing.
“He’ll be fine, I gave him a hug,” Gonzalez said, smiling as he shared that information before Saturday’s game. “I don’t like giving hugs and all that stuff, it gets a little crazy. But I did give him a hug today, and said if you don’t get them today you’ll get them tomorrow, don’t worry about it.”
A few hours later, Freeman ripped a two-out double to right field in the third inning, driving in the first two runs of the day and sending the Braves toward a 9-5 win against the Marlins to clinch the series at Marlins Park on a day when a pair of prospects came through big for Atlanta and the game’s best closer tied a franchise record.
Craig Kimbrel entered with two on and one out in the ninth inning and got the last two outs to collect his 15th save this season and the 154th of his career, tying John Smoltz’s franchise record. Kimbrel struck out Derek Dietrich and induced a fielder’s choice grounder from Giancarlo Stanton, but second baseman Ramiro Pena dropped third baseman Chris Johnson’s throw.
With bases loaded, Kimbrel induced a game-ending groundout by Casey McGehee.
The Marlins got within 6-5 before the Braves added three in the ninth. It became a save situation again when Braves reliever David Hale gave up a leadoff single and a one-run walk in the ninth inning, which put the potential tying run on deck, thus a save situation.
The Braves built a 5-1 lead before things got dicey. The Marlins got two runs in the sixth and added two in the eighth against David Carpenter, who failed to retire any of four batters he faced. With runners on the corners and the Braves nursing a one-run lead, Shae Simmons was brought in for his major league debut and recorded perhaps the biggest out of the game, striking out Jarrod Saltalamacchia. Simmons was called up from Double-A and arrived Saturday morning.
Luis Avilan got the first two outs of the inning before the recently shaky Carpenter gave up three hits and a walk.
Braves starter Ervin Santana (5-2) was staked to an early five-run lead for the second time in six days, and this time had far better results as he ended his three-game slide with six solid innings. He was charged with seven hits, three runs, two walks, after blowing a 6-1 lead Monday against the Red Sox and entering Saturday with an 0-2 record and 9.00 ERA in his past three starts.
Rookie Tommy La Stella had two hits, his first stolen base and his first RBI in his third major league game, and Jason Heyward added a two-run single for the Braves, who moved two games ahead of second-place Miami in the National League East standings. They go for a three-game sweep Sunday against the Marlins, who swept a three-game series from the Braves in Miami a month ago.
The Braves were last in the majors with a .159 average with runners in scoring position and two outs before Saturday, when their first six runs came on four hits in those situations. The first was the two-run double by Freeman, who scored on Justin Upton’s single to push the lead to 3-0 in the third inning.
In the fourth inning, after consecutive walks from La Stella and Gerald Laird and a Santana sacrifice bunt, Heyward lined a groundball single up the middle to drive in both runners for a 5-0 lead.
After Santana faced the minimum nine batters through three innings –Laird threw out a would-be base stealer and Santana induced a double-play grounder in that span – Chris Yelich hit a leadoff triple in the fourth and scored on Derek Dietrich’s single. Santana retired the next three, including strikeouts of major league home run and RBI leader Stanton and Garret Jones.
The Marlins cut the lead to 5-3 with a pair of runs off the sixth. Yelich hit a leadoff single, Dietrich tripled, Stanton walked and Casey McGehee had a sacrifice fly before Santana got a double-play grounder from Jones to escape without further damage.
The Braves added what proved to be a valuable insurance run in the seventh when Chris Johnson singled with two out and Simmons walked. First baseman Jones dropped a pickoff throw to allow Johnson to advance to third, and La Stella hit an opposite-field single through the right side for a 6-3 lead.
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