Braves, Astros eliminate foes
ATLANTA — Freddie Freeman and the Atlanta Braves will get another chance to finish the job they came agonizingly close to achieving a year ago.
It doesn’t matter at all that they had fewer wins than any other playoff team.
Freeman hit an improbable, tiebreaking homer off Milwaukee closer Josh Hader with two outs in the eighth inning and the Braves advanced to the NL Championship Series for the second year in a row, finishing off the Brewers 5-4 on Tuesday night.
The Braves won the best-of-five Division Series three games to one, advancing to face either the 107-win San Francisco Giants or the 106-win Los Angeles Dodgers with a trip to the World Series on the line.
“I’ve had a lot of cool moments in my career,” Freeman said. ‘I think that’s gonna top ’em all. Hopefully it’s not the last one and I’ve got a couple more in these playoffs.”
The game was tied at 4 when the Brewers brought on Hader to make sure it stayed that way. The hard-throwing lefty struck out Eddie Rosario and Dansby Swanson, but he couldn’t get past the 2020 NL MVP.
Freeman caught up with an 84-mph slider, launching a 428-foot drive into the seats in left-center — only the fourth homer all season off Hader, and first since July 28.
Freeman became the first left-hander to homer off Hader since Jason Heyward in 2020.
“The first two guys went down, so I just tried to get a pitch up and he hung a slider and I put a good swing on it,” Freeman said. “There was no rhyme or reason to it.”
Freeman celebrated wildly on his way around the bases, and popped back out of the dugout for a curtain call as the crowd of 40,195 roared. He became the first player in franchise history to hit a go-ahead home run in the eighth inning or later in a series-clinching win, ESPN Stats & Info said.
“When Freddie hit that ball, I mean, I lost my poise. Everybody in the dugout was going crazy,” teammate Ozzie Albies said.
Will Smith pitched a scoreless ninth for his third straight save in the series, getting Christian Yelich to look at strike three with a runner on first for the final out. Tyler Matzek claimed the win with a perfect eighth.
“Freddie! Freddie! Freddie!” the crowd chanted as the Braves celebrated in the center of the field.
CHICAGO — It was Jose Altuve, Carlos Correa and Alex Bregman once again.
The Houston Astros are going to the AL Championship Series for the fifth straight year. Their October-tested stars led the way.
Altuve hit a three-run homer and scored four times, and Houston eliminated the Chicago White Sox with a 10-1 victory in Game 4 of their AL Division Series on Tuesday.
“We don’t get tired of this moment,” Correa said. “They’re special, and we perform our best when October comes.”
Correa and Bregman each hit a two-run double as the Astros bounced back from Sunday night’s 12-6 loss with their usual relentless brand of baseball. Michael Brantley had three hits and two RBIs.
Next up for Altuve and company is Game 1 of the ALCS against former Astros bench coach Alex Cora and the Boston Red Sox on Friday in Houston. The Red Sox eliminated Tampa Bay with a 6-5 victory in Game 4 on Monday night.
“We’re playing another good team,” Altuve said.
It’s Houston’s second ALCS under 72-year-old manager Dusty Baker, whose club got the best of 77-year-old Chicago skipper Tony La Russa. Baker replaced A.J. Hinch, who was fired in the fallout from the Astros’ 2017 sign-stealing scandal that also resulted in a one-year ban for Cora.
A testy La Russa argued with umpire Tom Hallion after he felt Houston reliever Kendall Graveman hit reigning AL MVP Jose Abreu intentionally with two out in the eighth. Abreu was plunked 22 times during the regular season.
“There is a character choice there that they should answer for,” La Russa said. “Stupid, too.
“I’ll be interested to see if they admit it. If they don’t admit it, then they’re very dishonest.”
Baker, who has sparred with La Russa in the past, said his team did not throw at Abreu intentionally.
“There was no reason for us to hit Abreu,” Baker said. “He hadn’t done anything to us.”
Gavin Sheets connected for Chicago, becoming the third rookie in franchise history to homer in a postseason game. But Carlos Rodon was knocked out in the third inning of his first start since Sept. 29, and the AL Central champions left eight runners on base.
The White Sox also lost in the first round of the 2020 playoffs, dropping two of three in Oakland. Before this year, the franchise had never made consecutive postseason appearances.
“It was a fun ride. Ended a little short,” Rodon said.
The Astros are looking for the franchise’s second championship after winning it all in 2017, a title that still evokes a strong reaction around the game after the team was punished for using electronics to steal signs.
The crowd at Guaranteed Rate Field chanted “Cheater! Cheater!” at times during the two games in Chicago, and White Sox reliever Ryan Tepera implied late Sunday night that Houston may have been stealing signs in Games 1 and 2.