With 88 regular-season victories, the Atlanta Braves had the worst record of any team in this year’s MLB playoffs. But in October, none of that matters.
Reigning National League MVP Freddie Freeman broke a 4-4 tie with a solo home run off Milwaukee Brewers closer Josh Hader in the bottom of the eighth inning Tuesday night to lift Atlanta to a 5-4 victory.
The Braves eliminated the Brewers in four games and advanced to the National League Championship Series for the second consecutive season.
“It’s been a whole different team in the second half,” Freeman said, crediting the front office for several key additions at the trade deadline. “We’ve been feeling pretty good about ourselves in the second half, playing really good baseball and we carried it over to the postseason.”
The visiting Brewers snapped a 22-inning scoring drought in the series, taking two-run leads in back-to-back innings and knocking out Atlanta starter Charlie Morton after 3 1/3 innings. But each time the Braves immediately countered with two runs of their own.
Eddie Rosario had a two-run single off Milwaukee starter Eric Lauer in the fourth, while Joc Pederson and Travis d’Arnaud drove home runs off reliever Aaron Ashby in the fifth.
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With the score still tied, Brewers manager Craig Counsell called on Hader to start the eighth, knowing he’d have a left-on-left matchup with Freeman due up third in the inning.
After the first two batters struck out, Freeman jumped on a first-pitch slider and deposited it several rows back into the center field seats — the first home run Hader had allowed since July 28.
“I just saw a pitch up (in the zone) and I was able to get a good swing on it,” Freeman told TBS on the field after the game. “There was no rhyme or reason to it. I was swinging good all game. I worked on stuff before the game and I was able to get one out.”
Braves closer Will Smith tossed a perfect ninth inning to seal the victory and send Atlanta to face either the Los Angeles Dodgers or the San Francisco Giants for the National League pennant.
The Braves took the Dodgers to seven games in last year’s NLCS before losing to the eventual World Series champions.
This time, they hope the result will be different.