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Braves hang on to beat Dodgers, take 2-0 lead in NLCS

Atlanta Braves first baseman Freddie Freeman hits a two-run home run against the Los Angeles Dodgers during the fourth inning in Game 2 Tuesday, Oct. 13, 2020, for the best-of-seven National League Championship Series at Globe Life Field in Arlington, Texas. The Braves won 8-7. (Curtis Compton / Curtis.Compton@ajc.com)

By Gabriel Burns, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

(CNT) City News And Talk #atlanta-ga

ARLINGTON, Texas — Braves first baseman Freddie Freeman didn’t stop his “MVFree” campaign when the calendar turned to October. Nor did his team’s offense stall when it arrived in the Texas bubble. Turns out, they needed every single run.

Freeman, who was the National League’s best player in the regular season, has been the best player through two games of the NL Championship Series. And his Braves, formerly postseason doormats, stand two wins from a World Series berth – though they didn’t make it easy.

Freeman’s fingerprints were all over Tuesday’s 8-7 Game 2 victory. He belted a two-run homer off Dodgers starter Tony Gonsolin to open the scoring in the fourth, made a clutch stretching grab to end a Dodgers scoring threat earlier in the night and had a key RBI hit in a four-run fifth. Every play loomed large in a game that nearly unraveled late.

The Dodgers scored seven runs after the sixth inning, including four in the ninth. They forced the Braves to use closer Mark Melancon, who saw two Dodgers reach but left Cody Bellinger stranded at third.

“You knew it was going to be tough,” manager Brian Snitker said. “This is a good ballclub we’re playing. They’re explosive, as we saw. I didn’t feel good with a big lead because these guys are too powerful. But that’s a good ballgame to win. They all are now. We shot ourselves in the foot at the end, and Melancon did a great job coming in.”

Late theatrics aside, it was another all-important win for the 2020 Braves, who are 7-0 this postseason and have outscored opponents 37-13. Yes, that’s a plus-24 run differential in seven games. The Braves had a plus-60 run differential in the 60-game regular season.

After Freeman’s early homer, the Braves’ bats broke out in the fourth inning. The Braves’ 33-minute, four-run half inning began with Nick Markakis’ 10-pitch walk. Entering the at-bat, Markakis was 4-for-25 this postseason. Six pitches later, Cristian Pache laced a double down the left-field line that scored Markakis.

It aptly illustrated the Braves’ oft-discussed veteran-youth mix. Pache, 21, scored Markakis, 36, on his first postseason hit and first career RBI. The double extended the Braves’ lead to 3-0.

Ronald Acuna’s ensuing walk ended Gonsolin’s outing. The Dodgers summoned Pedro Baez, who held left-handed hitters to a 3-for-31 mark in the regular season, to face Freeman, who greeted him with an RBI single. Marcell Ozuna walked to load the bases. Travis d’Arnaud’s walk scored the Braves’ fifth run. Ozzie Albies’ sacrifice fly scored their sixth.

It was an inning that sapped the enthusiasm out of every Dodgers fan at Globe Life Park. The Braves weren’t just beating the Dodgers. They were dominating them, convincingly showing them up just as they did with the Reds and Marlins en route to the NLCS.

The Dodgers, who were 43-17 in the regular season and nearly everyone’s World Series pick, looked as helpless as the last-place Red Sox team the Braves obliterated at Fenway Park in early September. But their late surge might’ve shown what’s to come. The Dodgers won’t be going out quietly.

Corey Seager had a three-run homer off A.J. Minter in the seventh, and Max Muncy had a two-run homer in the ninth. Albies’ two-out error on a Will Smith grounder extended the inning for Bellinger, who tripled off Melancon. AJ Pollack grounded out to third to leave the Dodgers just short. It was a frightening stretch for a Braves team that’s perfect when nursing a lead after six innings.

“This is one of those teams where, until that 27th out is made, you don’t feel good,” Snitker said. “Because of what they’re capable of doing. These guys have been through those wars. They’re a good ballclub. You have to make pitches. You have to hit locations. This whole thing is going to be tough.”

Nonetheless, the Braves need two more victories to claim this best-of-seven. Nobody in Atlanta will feel comfortable until it’s over, but these Braves have demolished every demon of the franchise’s past. And they avoided adding to that list of miseries by hanging on in Game 2. Albies’ solo homer in the top of the ninth – which was again caught by Melancon in the Braves’ bullpen – proved a game-saving insurance run.

ExploreBradley: Amazing Braves beat Dodgers again

The Braves won despite starter Ian Anderson’s “off” performance. Like Max Fried the night before, Anderson saw his pitch count build early, his with a 29-pitch first inning. In a two-on, two-out jam, the inning ended on a terrific defensive sequence: Austin Riley snagged a hard-hit ball by Will Smith at third and fired to Freeman, who stretched and kept his foot on the bag for his first signature moment of the game.

Anderson responded with a 13-pitch second but pitched into a troublesome third. He again walked Betts, and Justin Turner’s two-out single and Max Muncy’s four-pitch walk loaded the bases. Anderson got Smith to ground into a force out to third to end the inning.

The 22-year-old right-hander needed 66 pitches to record nine outs. He walked five over just four innings, but most important, he kept the Dodgers off the board. Anderson didn’t have his A-stuff – the fastball command was the most erratic it’s been – but showed the calmness and maturity that’s earned him glowing reviews through his first nine major-league outings.

He became the first Braves starter to produce three consecutive scoreless starts in the postseason. He’s the second pitcher in MLB history to begin his postseason career with three scoreless starts of four-or-more innings.

Unlike Anderson, Gonsolin cruised early and looked like he’d pitch deep into the game. The right-hander, who replaced Clayton Kershaw as the Game 2 starter, entered the fourth inning with a perfect game but left it in a two-run hole. He issued a leadoff walk to Acuna and saw his ill-placed inside splitter deposited into the right-field seats by Freeman, who had his second homer in as many nights.

With that swing, a game that felt tilted toward the Dodgers because of their early scoring chances shifted into the Braves’ favor. Freeman became the first player to homer in Game 1 and 2 of an NLCS since the Mets’ Daniel Murphy did so in 2015 against the Cubs.

Murphy won NLCS MVP that October, and if Freeman and the Braves maintain their trajectory, Freeman is looking at a similar outcome. Like the regular season, the Braves’ offense is torturing the opposition in the semifinals, and as it’s been for the better part of a decade, the entire operation is built around Freeman.

In 24 hours, the series will have a new tone. Either the Braves have gone up 3-0, putting Los Angeles in a hole only one MLB team has overcome, or the Dodgers will have cut the series deficit to 2-1, with the Braves potentially staring at the three-time Cy Young winner Kershaw in Game 4. Each game the Braves play the rest of the way will be their most important.

“We have to treat tomorrow like it’s the first game of the series,” Melancon said. “Come out strong. There’s no reason for either club to take their foot off the gas. No club has won anything yet. We just have to keep our mindset and stay focused.”

Late theatrics aside, it was another all-important win for the 2020 Braves, who are 7-0 this postseason and have outscored opponents 37-13. Yes, that’s a plus-24 run differential in seven games. The Braves had a plus-60 run differential in the 60-game regular season.

After Freeman’s early homer, the Braves’ bats broke out in the fourth inning. The Braves’ 33-minute, four-run half inning began with Nick Markakis’ 10-pitch walk. Entering the at-bat, Markakis was 4-for-25 this postseason. Six pitches later, Cristian Pache laced a double down the left-field line that scored Markakis.

It aptly illustrated the Braves’ oft-discussed veteran-youth mix. Pache, 21, scored Markakis, 36, on his first postseason hit and first career RBI. The double extended the Braves’ lead to 3-0.

Ronald Acuna’s ensuing walk ended Gonsolin’s outing. The Dodgers summoned Pedro Baez, who held left-handed hitters to a 3-for-31 mark in the regular season, to face Freeman, who greeted him with an RBI single. Marcell Ozuna walked to load the bases. Travis d’Arnaud’s walk scored the Braves’ fifth run. Ozzie Albies’ sacrifice fly scored their sixth.

It was an inning that sapped the enthusiasm out of every Dodgers fan at Globe Life Park. The Braves weren’t just beating the Dodgers. They were dominating them, convincingly showing them up just as they did with the Reds and Marlins en route to the NLCS.

The Dodgers, who were 43-17 in the regular season and nearly everyone’s World Series pick, looked as helpless as the last-place Red Sox team the Braves obliterated at Fenway Park in early September. But their late surge might’ve shown what’s to come. The Dodgers won’t be going out quietly.

Corey Seager had a three-run homer off A.J. Minter in the seventh, and Max Muncy had a two-run homer in the ninth. Albies’ two-out error on a Will Smith grounder extended the inning for Bellinger, who tripled off Melancon. AJ Pollack grounded out to third to leave the Dodgers just short. It was a frightening stretch for a Braves team that’s perfect when nursing a lead after six innings.

“This is one of those teams where, until that 27th out is made, you don’t feel good,” Snitker said. “Because of what they’re capable of doing. These guys have been through those wars. They’re a good ballclub. You have to make pitches. You have to hit locations. This whole thing is going to be tough.”

Nonetheless, the Braves need two more victories to claim this best-of-seven. Nobody in Atlanta will feel comfortable until it’s over, but these Braves have demolished every demon of the franchise’s past. And they avoided adding to that list of miseries by hanging on in Game 2. Albies’ solo homer in the top of the ninth – which was again caught by Melancon in the Braves’ bullpen – proved a game-saving insurance run.

The Braves won despite starter Ian Anderson’s “off” performance. Like Max Fried the night before, Anderson saw his pitch count build early, his with a 29-pitch first inning. In a two-on, two-out jam, the inning ended on a terrific defensive sequence: Austin Riley snagged a hard-hit ball by Will Smith at third and fired to Freeman, who stretched and kept his foot on the bag for his first signature moment of the game.

Anderson responded with a 13-pitch second but pitched into a troublesome third. He again walked Betts, and Justin Turner’s two-out single and Max Muncy’s four-pitch walk loaded the bases. Anderson got Smith to ground into a force out to third to end the inning.

The 22-year-old right-hander needed 66 pitches to record nine outs. He walked five over just four innings, but most important, he kept the Dodgers off the board. Anderson didn’t have his A-stuff – the fastball command was the most erratic it’s been – but showed the calmness and maturity that’s earned him glowing reviews through his first nine major-league outings.

He became the first Braves starter to produce three consecutive scoreless starts in the postseason. He’s the second pitcher in MLB history to begin his postseason career with three scoreless starts of four-or-more innings.

Unlike Anderson, Gonsolin cruised early and looked like he’d pitch deep into the game. The right-hander, who replaced Clayton Kershaw as the Game 2 starter, entered the fourth inning with a perfect game but left it in a two-run hole. He issued a leadoff walk to Acuna and saw his ill-placed inside splitter deposited into the right-field seats by Freeman, who had his second homer in as many nights.

With that swing, a game that felt tilted toward the Dodgers because of their early scoring chances shifted into the Braves’ favor. Freeman became the first player to homer in Game 1 and 2 of an NLCS since the Mets’ Daniel Murphy did so in 2015 against the Cubs.

Murphy won NLCS MVP that October, and if Freeman and the Braves maintain their trajectory, Freeman is looking at a similar outcome. Like the regular season, the Braves’ offense is torturing the opposition in the semifinals, and as it’s been for the better part of a decade, the entire operation is built around Freeman.

In 24 hours, the series will have a new tone. Either the Braves have gone up 3-0, putting Los Angeles in a hole only one MLB team has overcome, or the Dodgers will have cut the series deficit to 2-1, with the Braves potentially staring at the three-time Cy Young winner Kershaw in Game 4. Each game the Braves play the rest of the way will be their most important.

“We have to treat tomorrow like it’s the first game of the series,” Melancon said. “Come out strong. There’s no reason for either club to take their foot off the gas. No club has won anything yet. We just have to keep our mindset and stay focused.”