Braves punch playoff ticket on Freeman's walk-off

Braves punch playoff ticket on Freeman's walk-off

Braves punch playoff ticket on Freeman's walk-off
ATLANTA -- One year after ending a season by slamming his batting helmet in disgust, Freddie Freeman made sure that he and his Braves teammates would not be reintroduced to the disgust that stayed with them throughout this past winter.

Feeding off the momentum Chipper Jones created to begin the bottom of the ninth inning at Turner Field on Tuesday night, Freeman drilled a two-run walk-off homer that allowed the Braves to win yet another Kris Medlen start and clinch a playoff berth with a 4-3 win over the Marlins.

"This is the coolest thing I've ever had happen to me in my life," Freeman said. "Words can't really describe it right now. It still hasn't hit me yet. This is a dream come true. It's one of the greatest things ever. I just don't know what to say."

In 2011, Freeman grounded into a double play to end a must-win regular-season finale against the Phillies. On Tuesday, Freeman followed Jones' leadoff double in the ninth by producing a moment that he and many Braves fans will never forget. The 23-year-old first baseman looked at one slider, swung through another and then drilled Mike Dunn's 1-1 fastball an estimated 428 feet over the center-field wall.

After Freeman sprinted around the bases, he was mobbed by his teammates at the plate and then pushed toward the clubhouse where champagne and tears flowed. The Braves were celebrating the clinching of one of the National League's two Wild Card spots, distancing themselves from last year's painful conclusion.

"You don't know whether to laugh or cry or look for somebody to hug or slap in the back," Braves manager Fredi Gonzalez said. "This is special. You've got to give a lot of credit to those guys out there. After what we went through in September of last year and then for them to come out and win 89 games or something like that and we've still got a chance to get a few more and win a division, those guys are awesome."

A year after a 9-19 September erased the 9 1/2-game Wild Card lead they carried into September, the Braves have guaranteed that they will at least be part of the one-game playoff that will be played between the NL's two Wild Card entrants on Oct. 5. The only way they won't be part of that game is if they win the NL East.

With Tuesday's dramatic win, the Braves sit four games behind the Nationals in the division race. Though the odds are still against them erasing this deficit, they are still aiming for this division crown.

"We can go out now and play a lot more relaxed now that we've got a chance to play a postseason game," Jones said. "We got a great opportunity to go out and take it a step further. We're not out of the division yet. Until they close us out, we're going to keep fighting for that top spot."

Adding to the wonder of his magical final season, Jones delivered a sixth-inning sacrifice fly that gave the Braves a 2-1 lead until Donovan Solano hit his second home run of the night off Medlen. Solano's two-run shot gave the Marlins a 3-2 lead.

There was a sense that something special might happen once Jones began the bottom of the ninth with a double to the right-center-field gap.

"Chipper's at-bat tonight was so emblematic of the kind of season he's had," Braves chairman and CEO Terry McGuirk said. "It was leadership all the way in the ninth inning. That double was right on the button and really just a tonic for the whole team."

As the ninth inning unfolded, Medlen sat in a recliner in the clubhouse, staring at the possibility that the Braves were going to lose a game that he started for the first time since May 23, 2010.

But thanks to Freeman's heroics, an amazing streak was extended. The Braves have won each of the past 22 games started by Medlen, the longest streak since the Yankees won 22 games started by Whitey Ford between 1950-53. Ford missed the 1951 and '52 seasons while in the military.

"You've got Chipper and Freddie, there is an opportunity right there," Medlen said. "I'm not lying when I said that I knew that was going to happen."

During last year's 4-3 season-ending loss to the Phillies, Medlen pitched 1 1/3 innings of relief after Craig Kimbrel blew a ninth-inning lead, just the second appearance he made since undergoing Tommy John surgery 13 months earlier.

Now as the Braves celebrate a postseason berth, they are looking for Medlen to start the one-game playoff on Oct. 5 to determine which Wild Card entrant advances, should that be the scenario for Atlanta. He has gone 8-0 with a 1.04 ERA in the 11 starts he has made since moving from the bullpen to the rotation on July 31.

"It's been a long time coming," Braves general manager Frank Wren said. "These guys have persevered through everything that was thrown at them starting in Spring Training. They never doubted and kept playing hard and saved their best baseball for September."

After enduring last year's disappointing and frustrating conclusion, the Braves said they would learn from what went wrong and be motivated by what they had experienced. One year later, they were able to celebrate the ability to do so.

"You can't really win consistently until you lose," Medlen said. "You've got to have that heartbreak to know how to react to certain situations and bounce back. It's huge for us to be in this situation."

Mark Bowman is a reporter for This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.