ST. LOUIS — As the best player on an Atlanta Braves team careening towards 100 losses, Freddie Freeman’s rare struggles end up being magnified by the lack of production from his teammates.
Saturday night, Freeman bounced back from a four-strikeout game on Friday night, and his teammates followed suit, helping Roberto Hernandez get a win in his first major-league appearance in more than a year.
Bombing a season-high four homers, led by Freeman’s three-run shot in the third inning, Atlanta routed the St. Louis Cardinals 13-5 at sold-out Busch Stadium.
Freeman reached base five times, going 3-for-3 with three runs and three RBIs — the first time he has had three hits, three runs and three RBIs in the same game.
“It’s been a rough week, obviously, but I’m always going to keep grinding,” he said. “I’ve had a couple of rough spells during the year, but tonight was a good feeling.”
Freeman unloaded a 448-foot homer over the center-field wall after Ender Inciarte and Erick Aybar started the third with singles off Carlos Martinez (10-7). It was the highlight of a big night for Freeman, and the beginning of a rare power surge for the team with the fewest homers in the majors.
The Braves (40-70) also got a three-run shot from Adonis Garcia in the fifth, giving them a 7-2 lead, and blew it open with the long ball in the ninth after St. Louis (58-52) pulled within 7-5.
Inciarte whacked his second homer off reliever Jonathan Broxton with pinch-hitter Chase d’Arnaud aboard after a leadoff single, and Matt Kemp cracked his first Atlanta homer three batters later with Freeman aboard, his 24th of the year.
It was an unexpected display of power on more than one front from the Braves, who entered the evening with only 66 homers. What’s more, it occurred primarily against Martinez, who was 6-1 with a 2.09 earned run average in his previous 11 starts.
But in this one, Martinez allowed seven hits and seven runs, six earned, over five innings. He walked two and whiffed five.
“I didn’t feel right,” Martinez said through an interpreter. “I felt just a little bit negative mentally. But I have faith that I’m going to be able to get right back into it.”
His team almost did that, chipping away at their game-long deficit and bringing the tying run to the plate in the eighth after pinch-hitter Matt Adams doubled home Matt Holliday to pull within 7-4.
Tommy Pham knocked home a run on a bouncer to second on which he was barely nipped — the Cardinals appealed the ruling but it was upheld via replay — to cut the deficit to two. But Kolten Wong, who had a pinch-hit homer to start the fifth, fanned on three pitches to end the eighth.
Atlanta ended any thoughts of a St. Louis comeback with a six-run ninth, capped by d’Arnaud’s second hit of the inning, a two-run double down the left-field line.
The outburst sealed a win for Hernandez, the Braves’ 36-year-old starter. Hernandez, known as Fausto Carmona when he won 19 games for the 2007 Cleveland Indians, lasted five-plus innings, allowing six hits and three runs with a walk and four strikeouts.
“It was very emotional at the start,” Hernandez said through a translator. “I didn’t know if I would ever have this opportunity again. It was a wonderful experience.”
Despite the result, the Cardinals stayed tied with Miami for the National League’s second wild-card spot, thanks to the Marlins’ 12-6 loss in Colorado.
As for the Braves, they enjoyed the fruits of a season-high run output. It was only the second time this year they’ve scored double-digit runs in a game.
And as one would expect, Freeman was leading the charge.
“It was good to see Freddie hit that long one,” Atlanta interim manager Brian Snitker said. “When Freddie goes, I think it kind of relaxes everybody.” NOTES: By calling up RHP Roberto Hernandez from Triple-A Gwinnett, Atlanta used its 14th different starting pitcher of the year, one off the franchise record set in 1975. Only Cincinnati has used as many this season. … St. Louis LHP Jaime Garcia became the third major-league pitcher this year to knock in the only run in a 1-0 win on Friday night. The first two were Clayton Kershaw (Dodgers) and Madison Bumgarner (Giants). … The Braves dealt LHP Hunter Cervenka to Miami in exchange for minor league LHP Michael Mader and minor league SS Anfernee Seymour.