As chants of ‘Freddie’ rang down from the seats of Truist Park on Oct. 12, the cornerstone of the Atlanta Braves’ current squad looked happier than ever.
Freddie Freeman rounding the bases following a go-ahead home run in Game 4 of the National League Division Series will forever be a signature moment, and it perfectly represents the team’s 2021 season alongside Freeman’s history with the club.
But how can one play represent so much? Why is this Freeman’s signature moment, or even possibly the Braves’ signature moment of the past decade? To understand what Freeman’s game-winning home run means for Atlanta’s team and its fans, you have to reverse time in a few ways.
The first stop on our time travel trip is the halfway point of this year’s season. The 2021 Atlanta Braves seemed to be dead in the water at the All-Star break. Star player Ronald Acuna Jr. was injured and out for the season, the rest of the team had suffered countless injuries and their record still hadn’t surpassed the .500 mark.
You’ve heard this story before. General Manager Alex Anthopoulos reloads the batting order and the team somehow makes the postseason only to run into a powerhouse Milwaukee Brewers team. Then, with the help of Freeman’s homer, the Braves upset the heavily favored Brewers and win the series to go to the National League Championship Series.
For a team so accustomed to playing the role of Goliath and falling to David, the change of pace was overdue. For a player like Freeman to deliver the final blow to bring down the favorite changed the feeling from overdue to cathartic.
That’s the next piece of the rewind: Freeman’s postseason history. Freeman has been to the postseason with Atlanta in every season since 2018, reaching the NLDS three separate times prior to this season. Each time he has struggled mightily at the plate, notching OPS marks of .732, .673 and .452. Aside from a very strong performance against the Dodgers in last year’s NLCS, Freeman’s postseason narrative has been one of disappointment.
In the NLDS against Milwaukee this year, Freeman hit .308 with an OPS of 1.086. It was a turnaround that was much needed in a series featuring slow offenses for both teams.
As of right now, Freeman is performing unremarkably in the NLCS, starting with seven straight strikeouts and failing to register a single hit or RBI. The important factor, however, is that Atlanta keeps winning. They now have a 2-0 lead on the Dodgers at the time of this being written.
As long as the Braves keep rolling, even if Freeman continues to struggle, that signature home run will be imprinted in the minds of Braves fans.
If it were any other player, the sentiment from fans would be something like, “Ugh, finally!” For Freeman, though, the breakthrough represents years of struggle paying off for a franchise cornerstone.
After all, Freeman deserves some sympathy from Braves fans. The third and final piece of this rewind is one no team supporter wants to remember: the rebuild.
From roughly 2014 to 2018, the Braves were a tough team to watch. Four straight losing seasons including three with over 90 losses will do that. Freeman was there for all of it, though, becoming the team’s best player and lone star. He went through injuries, including a broken wrist in 2017, and played for a team that never came close to the playoffs in that span.
When Freeman started with the Braves in 2010, he learned from players like Chipper Jones. He got his first taste of the postseason as a young player when the Braves used him occasionally in 2012 and 2013. But after that, Freeman quickly became the franchise and didn’t return to the playoffs until 2018.
With others guiding the team including manager Bryan Snitker and general manager Alex Anthopoulos, Atlanta has become a playoff team once again. They have now won four straight division titles and are fighting for a chance to play in the World Series in 2021. While faces like Snitker and Anthopoulos are important for the team’s rebound, it’s Freeman that has been the face of the franchise when the team needed it most.