The Braves clinched the National League East title Sunday afternoon while they were still batting in the sixth inning of their game at Wrigley Field, when the Marlins defeated the second-place Nationals in Washington.
The Cubs probably were thankful, since it meant they wouldn’t have to face Julio Teheran for more than one more inning.
Teheran had no trouble with Chicago batters for six innings of a 5-2 win in the series finale, striking out seven, walking none and allowing one run and four hits, only one of which was a clean hit.
“I was excited for the game,” Teheran said. “I know we wanted this game. I was focused the whole game and trying to do my thing.”
Andrelton Simmons hit a pair of home runs, and Freddie Freeman had three hits, including a two-run homer in the first inning, staking Teheran (13-8) to a lead that he and the bullpen wouldn’t relinquish.
“What a great feeling,” Braves manager Fredi Gonzalez said. “It really is a great feeling. We knew early on that the Nationals had lost, but we still wanted to be able to celebrate after coming out with a win. And we did. Teheran was terrific, and we were able to add on some runs. Lot of good things happened. Good team win.”
The Braves finished a 3-3 trip with a win, assuring their celebration and flight home wouldn’t have the feel of backing into the division title. Simmons was asked if winning the division felt as good as he thought it would.
“Yes, yes, yes!” he shouted above the din of the raucous clubhouse celebration. “We were talking about it yesterday, (clinching) if the Nationals lose, but it definitely feels better when you win the game.”
Many Braves fans in the crowd of 30,515 cheered when the final score from the Nationals loss was revealed on the ancient, hand-operated scoreboard above center field at Wrigley Field.
“I told (bench coach) Carlos (Tosca), I don’t know whether to smile or cry,” Gonzalez said, who appeared to be fighting back tears when the TV cameras showed him in the dugout after the Nationals game was over. “You don’t know what kind of feelings you’ll have. And you quickly brush those away, because now you’ve got to get back to the task at hand and try to win the game.
“I mean, it’s all fine and dandy that we win the division but it wouldn’t have been the same if we hadn’t won today’s game. It really makes it better.”
Simmons had a two-out homer in the fourth inning and a two-run, two-out homer in the eighth, the second multihomer game of the season for the splendid shortstop, who has 17 homers in his first full season in the majors.
“If it wasn’t for him, I don’t know if we’d be in this situation,” Gonzalez said. “He’s a special guy.”
Craig Kimbrel gave up two hits, but had three strikeouts in the ninth inning for his majors-leading 49th save.
“The whole pitching staff is the reason we’re where we are,” third baseman Chris Johnson said. “Teheran was amazing.”
Jason Heyward, making his second start in three days after missing 30 days with a broken jaw, hit a line-drive single off Edwin Jackson (8-17) to start the Braves’ first inning. Heyward advanced on a wild pitch during Justin Upton’s 10-pitch strikeout, then Freeman crushed the next pitch, a 94-mph fastball, onto Sheffield Avenue beyond right field.
It was Freeman’s fourth homer in 10 games and 23rd of the season, matching the career high he set in 2012. The league MVP candidate ranks second in the NL with 105 RBIs and second in the majors with a .435 average with runners in scoring position.
The Cubs cut the lead to 2-1 in the first when Anthony Rizzo hit a two-out, wind-blown pop fly that landed in front of right fielder Justin Upton for a double, and Dioner Navarro singled on a grounder deflected by second baseman Elliot Johnson.
With the Braves ahead 3-1 in the fifth, the Cubs got a pair of singles, including a one-out fly ball that Heyward lost in the sun.
Teheran said the wind- and sun-aided hits didn’t faze him.
“I was so focused that it didn’t matter,” he said. “I knew it was tough (conditions). I was just trying to do my job.”
With two in scoring position, Teheran struck out Starlin Castro on an 11-pitch at-bat to end the inning.
“He came out and gave us six strong innings,” Freeman said of Teheran. “We were able to get him a lead quick, and hopefully that helped him out. I think it did. And Andrelton was unbelievable today. He’s been doing it all year. That’s a Gold Glover in my mind, and what he does offensively is pretty special also.”
The Braves (92-63) have only a seven-game homestand remaining in the regular season and are still trying to win home-field advantage through the NL playoffs by finishing with the league’s best record. They were a game ahead of St. Louis before the Cardinals’ Sunday night game at Milwaukee.
“We want to play in front of our home crowd,” Johnson said. “From now on that’s what we’ll be playing for. We want to get this thing back to Atlanta and let our home crowd enjoy this with us.”
Wood to the ‘pen: Rookie Alex Wood was used in relief Sunday for the first time since July, and Gonzalez said he plans to use the left-hander as a reliever in the postseason. Wood, who started Wednesday’s win at Washington, needed only two pitches to induce a double-play grounder from the only batter he faced in the eighth inning, Donnie Murphy.
“I think looking ahead (to the postseason), he’ll be a big piece for us out of that bullpen, a third left-hander,” Gonzalez said.