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 an 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 felt good afterward and hoped to be back in the lineup Monday.
“They kept fighting back, and we were able to overcome that,” said Heyward, adding that Freeman’s homer did “what it’s done for us all year. Kind of let them know they were going to have to score again. They did, but we were able to come back and overcome that again.
“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 – his defense didn’t help him much that inning – to win his third consecutive decision and fourth consecutive home start, and the Braves collected their majors-leading 38th come-from-behind win. Minor 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 on that ball that was the sun ball, but he battled. He gave us seven strong innings. That’s where the good ones stick around, they hang around and all of a sudden we score four and he gets a ‘W’.”
After B.J. Upton put the Braves ahead with a line-drive sacrifice fly in the seventh, Gattis hit an RBI double just below the top of 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 over the head of a shallow-playing right fielder 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-highest in the majors. It was his 14th home run of the season, and came with his grandparents attendance along with an aunt and cousin, all visiting from California.
“My aunt and cousin are here for a tennis tournament, and my grandparents just 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 pitched.
“He’s tough hitter, a guy that doesn’t stand at the plate to swing at bad pitches,” Alvarez said of Freeman. “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 with runners at first and second in the fifth — he made the decision, hopeing to catch the Marlins off-guard and load the bases for Freeman — and Minor was thrown out at third on the play. Upton’s hamstring tightened after the the sprint to first base and he came out of the game.
He was replaced by pinch-runner B.J. Upton, his brother. B.J. played center field the rest of the game and Jordan Schafer moved over from center to left field.
For Justin, it was the second time in a month that he left a game with a leg cramp. He had a left-calf cramp July 12 while running out a ground ball, an injury that caused him him to miss the last two games before the All-Star break.
The Braves led the NL in fielding percentage (.993) during their 14-game winning streak, but their defense was anything but crisp in Sunday’s three-run second inning.
After Ed Lucas doubled and scored on Jake Marisnick’s two-out single, Koyie Hill hit a high pop to shallow right field that second baseman Dan Uggla lost in the sun. Hill ended up with a single and the Marlins with runners on the corners.
Alvarez followed by lining a double over the head of left fielder Justin Upton, who got a bad jump on the ball and was late getting back as it sailed over his outstretched glove for a two-run double and a 3-0 lead.
Gattis led off the second inning with a ground-rule double and scored on Uggla’s sacrifice fly to cut the lead to 3-1. But the Braves wasted a prime opportunity in the fourth, after Freeman’s leadoff double off the left-field wall and Gattis’ single. Chris Johnson struck out and, after an Uggla walk loaded the bases, Andrelton Simmons popped out and Schafer grounded into a fielder’s choice to end the inning.
At that point, those who remembered the Braves’ 15-game winning streak in April-May 2000, when the team lost six of its next eight games, might have wondered if a similar letdown would slow these Braves.
Not to worry. Freeman was about to give the Braves a needed jolt.