ATLANTA — It’s getting to be an old hat for Freddie Freeman — even at the tender age of 23.
Of his first four MLB years with the Braves (2010-13), the brawny first baseman’s inaugural homer for each season has come against a National League East foe.
That stealth tradition was upheld on Monday, as Freeman belted one of three Atlanta home runs and sparked the Braves to a 7-5 victory over the Phillies on opening night.
Freeman, who battled various hand and eye maladies last season but still produced 23 homers, 94 RBI and 91 runs, had a torrid spring for the Braves, notching seven homers, 16 RBI, 15 runs, a .342 batting average and scintillating OPS of 1.024.
And by all accounts, he didn’t forget to pack the positive mojo when making the Braves’ return trip from Orlando to Atlanta.
“It was good to break the zero real quick and give (winning pitcher Tim Hudson) a lead in the beginning,” said Freeman, who went 3 for 4 with one run, one homer and three RBI on the night.
Freeman, like the other Braves in the post-game scrum, happily acknowledged the fans’ impact against the Phillies — especially in the early innings.
“You know, there was a lot of energy, and we’re a big-energy team that likes to have fun,” said Freeman, who previously had never registered a home run on opening day as a pro (including the minors). “And it’s easier to have fun when you’ve got a crowd like that.”
On a grander scale, the Braves increased their win streak in home openers to five — a run of good fortune that also includes five straight outings of six runs or more.
The opposing starting pitchers for the previous four home openers were: Shairon Martis (Nationals), Carlos Zambrano (Cubs), Cliff Lee (Phillies) and Randy Wolf (Brewers). On Monday night, the Braves touched Philly ace Cole Hamels for three homers, five runs and seven hits — before squeezing in two more crucial runs against the Philly bullpen.
It was a good victory for Atlanta. It was a thrilling experience for the 51,456 fans who occupied Turner Field on a picturesque April Fools’ evening. But the win also offered a quirk or two.
For starters, B.J. Upton was the only core Atlanta starter to neither score a run nor tally a hit. And yet, the Braves didn’t send more than five batters to the plate in any of the eight innings.
Think about that for a second.
But thanks to the timely power of Freeman (410-foot blast), Justin Upton (a moon shot to left field in the fifth inning) and Dan Uggla, the Braves made the most of their fruitful-but-quick at-bats.
“Last year, (Freeman) was about four RBIs short of 100 [actually six], which is a pretty good year. Our hitting coach, Greg Walker, thinks Freeman is the most talented young hitter he’s ever worked with,” said manager Fredi Gonzalez, who is now 184-141 with the Braves (third season). “So, I’m glad he came out and put some runs on the board (early on) … The sky’s the limit with him.”
The same might be said about a young, dynamic lineup that’s legitimately primed for a run at a National League pennant.