Freddie Freeman was having another night to forget, having struck out three times in four trips to the plate, before he came up against Derek Law (yes, Law, not Lowe) in the bottom of the 11th. Luckily for the Braves, he turned everything around with one swing, taking the first pitch from Law in the inning out to deep right center for a walkoff homer and a 5-4 Atlanta victory.
Braves fans aren't particularly accustomed to seeing Freeman struggle, and rightly so: his career-low wRC+ for a season is 115, established in his sophomore season (2012), but he entered tonight's game with a pedestrian 102 wRC+ mark, with peripherals down from his career averages. So, suffice to say, I bet he feels great about crushing that pitch.
Freeman's fireworks were set up in the bottom of the ninth by some good fortune and good baserunning. The Braves trailed 4-3 at that point and San Francisco manager Bruce Bochy called on closer Santiago Casilla to try to seal the deal for the division-leading Giants. Casilla was more animated than effective, however: he struck out Freeman to lead off the frame, but then plunked Adonis Garcia and allowed a soft liner to left to Nick Markakis. Garcia got a good read on the ball and made third base on the play, and then scampered home to tie the game as Casilla uncorked a wild pitch. Casilla would get through the rest of the frame unscathed, but the game was tied to set up Freeman a couple of innings later.
Before all that, the game looked like a pretty routine affair, especially early on. Williams Perez had a pretty generic start, getting into deep counts and eclipsing 100 pitches in the sixth. He left after gaining just 17 outs, allowing four runs (three earned) on five hits and two walks, while striking out just two batters. The defense did him few favors, but it was more of an "expected Williams Perez" than a "surprisingly effective Williams Perez" outing.
The Braves, meanwhile, struggled against Albert Suarez, making his first major league start, for three innings, before crawling back into the game and knocking him out in the sixth. The game then descended into a battle of bullpens and pinch hitters before the fireworks in the ninth and eleventh innings.
Specifically, the Giants got the first tallies on a Brandon Belt two-run shot off of Perez, scoring Matt Duffy, who had doubled. Ender Inciarte countered with a triple in the bottom of the fourth and scored on a groundout from Gordon Beckham to halve the deficit, but the Giants came right back with a sequence of bunt hit - reach on error (why is Kelly Johnson still allowed to play second base?) - sacrifice bunt - intentional walk - sacrifice fly. They then added a fourth run the following inning, as Suarez, up with the bases loaded, hit a sharp grounder to Beckham at shortstop that Beckham snared but was unable to get out of his glove for an out. At that point, Perez had departed, and Ian Krol allowed the single and walk that set up Suarez's RBI.
The Braves chased Suarez immediately after that, with Chase d'Arnaud doubling and then Mallex Smith hitting a deep drive that bounced in and out of right fielder Trey Parker's glove (Parker was replacing Hunter Pence, who injured his leg earlier in the game) for a triple. After Suarez walked Ender Inciarte, he was pulled, and reliever George Kontos got Beckham to hit into a run-scoring double play. (Unsurprisingly, the Braves came into this game last in WPA and RE24, which are non-context neutral hitting stats. Hitting into double plays in situations like that is a great way to really tank your team's run expectancy.)
That was all the scoring on the night, though fans in the stands and watching at home were still delighted to experience Round 3 of the Brian Snitker - Bruce Bochy Bullpen Manage-Off Spectacular, featuring the use of nine relievers combined (yay, mid-inning pitching changes) before Casilla came on in the ninth and blew the save.
Aside from Krol's adventures, the Atlanta bullpen held its own, with the sequence of Alexi Ogando, Hunter Cervenka, Bud Norris, Arodys Vizcaino, and Chris Withrow allowing just one hit while striking out six. Three of the Braves' seven hits came from players not in the starting lineup: d'Arnaud got two after entering as a pinch hitter and staying in the game, while Francoeur recorded the other.
But the Braves did notch their first walkoff win of 2016, so clearly the sky's the limit from here on out. Chris Withrow got the "W," his first since September 2013.