The Principality

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Freeman Escape Act After Teheran Dominates

Both runs and wins have been in short supply over the past week or so in Atlanta.  Having lost 8 of the previous 9 games and scored just 16 runs in that timeframe, the team could be forgiven for looking forward to the visit to Turner Field of the National League’s last place club, the Chicago Cubs.  Yet despite a dazzling, eight inning one-hit performace from Julio Teheran, the bats remained quiet and it took a walk-off single from Freddie Freeman in the 10th inning to seal a 3-2 win, after Craig Kimbrel blew his second save of the season a frame earlier.

 

The Braves recent struggles have largely been with the bat and seen extra-base hits down along with hits with runners in scoring position.  Strikeouts remain a problem and have all combined to make a perfect storm of inertia.  Pitching, on the other hand has remained largely strong and it was no exception tonight from Teheran, who turned in his eighth consecutive quality start to begin the season.  The young right-hander has now conceded two earned runs or fewer in 27 of his last 34 starts. 

 

The only blemish on Teheran’s ledger today was a third-inning lead-off home run from Mike Olt, which gave the Cubs a temporary lead.  "I felt great," Teheran said. "I was mixing my pitches a little better today. Everything was working pretty well today. There was one mistake I made. After that, I got run support and then I started focusing a little more on the game."

 

That run support came in the bottom half of the inning.  Cubs starter Jason Hammel surrendered two-out hits to Freeman and Evan Gattis before crucially sending a wild pitch to the backstop that allowed the runners to both move into scoring position.  Given the recent team troubles and slow start to the season from Chris Johnson, Hammel must have felt confident he could escape the jam.  But the 29 year old third baseman, who this week signed a three-year contract extension with Atlanta, lined a ground ball into left field and the two runners scored easily, putting the Braves 2-1 up.

 

In the past 10 games the Braves had hit .139 with runners in scoring position, so Johnson’s timely hit was some much needed relief.  "We did a good job of taking advantage of those opportunities that we got tonight," Johnson said.  Hammel blamed the conditions for allowing Johnson to put the Braves ahead.  "I'm not going to make excuses, but every time I pitch in humidity, I have trouble with the grip," Hammel said. "So, I've got to find a way to adjust and usually that's a lot of rosin."

 

The humidity didn’t hurt Teheran though, who retired 18 of the final 19 batters he faced and baffled the Cubs through 8 magnificent innings.  Besides Olt’s home run, Teheran allowed just two walks and struck out nine in a 105-pitch effort.  "Teheran was doing very well," Cubs manager Rick Renteria said. "He was attacking the strike zone. He was using his fastball extremely well. It's got great life, and we weren't really able to do anything with it."

 

However, in a period when nothing seems to be going right for Atlanta, the normally flawless Kimbrel proved to be human once again when he surrendered Teheran’s lead in the top of the ninth. Chris Coghlan singled to lead off the inning and moved into scoring position on Emilio Bonifacio’s ground-out.  Kimbrel has struck out half the hitters he has faced this year, but had no such luck with Ryan Kalish, who tied the game with a line drive to left.  It was only Kimbrel’s second blown save of the season and his ERA remains a respectable 2.70, but given the standards he has set during each of the previous three seasons, his recent form might give the Braves hierarchy some sleepless nights.

 

Nonetheless, Kimbrel was redeemed by his teammates one inning later.  Jason Heyward walked to lead off the inning and advanced to second on a botched pickoff move from Wesley Wright.  Renteria then made the decision not to pitch to Justin Upton, but set up the lefty-lefty matchup against Freeman.  It proved to be fatal for the Cubs as Freeman drilled a pitch straight up the middle and Heyward was too fast, easily beating the throw of Kalish to the plate, giving the Braves a 3-2 walk-off win.

 

"It puts a smile on my face," Freeman said. "I don't know if you saw it on TV, but after the second, third and fourth pitches outside, Justin and I were just kind of laughing at each other. It just kind of fires you up, if you're not fired up enough going into an inning to hit a walk-off. When they intentionally walk somebody to get to you, it definitely lights a fire under your butt."

 

Even though Teheran didn’t get the credit for the win after his performance, he would have been delighted to see the team get just their second win in 10 games.  In an ironic twist, the win was actually credited to Alex Wood, who has had more of his fair share of tough-luck losses already this season.  The Braves continue the series on Saturday night, sending Ervin Santana to the mound to face Cubs ace Jeff Samardzija.

 

Andrew Bracegirdle

09 May 2014