ATLANTA (AP) — It’s amazing what great pitching and hitting will do for a losing streak.
Freddie Freeman hit a two-run homer and drove in three runs, Touki Toussaint pitched into the sixth inning and the NL East-leading Atlanta Braves snapped a four-game skid with a 7-3 victory over the St. Louis Cardinals on Wednesday.READ MORE: Child Tax Credit: When Will Parents Get Their First Monthly Check?
It was a big win for Atlanta, which began the day with a 5½-game lead over Philadelphia and opens a four-game home series against the Phillies on Thursday.
The Braves need any combination of six victories or Philadelphia losses to clinch their first division title since 2013.
St. Louis, which had won three straight, began the day leading Colorado by 1½ games for the second wild-card spot.
Closer A.J. Minter, working in a non-save situation in the ninth, walked two to load the bases, but he struck out Jose Martinez and got Paul DeJong to pop up.
Freeman’s 23rd homer, an opposite-field shot to left-center, put the Braves up 2-0 in the fourth against Jack Flaherty. Freeman went 3 for 3 and is hitting .405 over his past 11 games.
Toussaint (2-1) allowed five hits, two runs, three walks and struck out eight in 5 2/3 innings. A rookie making his fourth career start, Toussaint was chased after Yadier Molina’s RBI single cut the lead to 5-2 in the sixth.
At least for one game, Atlanta snapped a funk at home, where it had dropped 14 of 18 and has won just one of its past seven series at SunTrust Park.
Flaherty (8-8) gave up five hits, five runs and two walks in 4 2/3 innings. Facing the Braves for the first time, Flaherty began the game as the NL rookie leader in strikeouts, winning percentage and opponents’ batting average. He had gone 4-1 with 1.69 ERA in his previous eight starts.
Tyler Flowers doubled to begin the three-run fifth, advanced to third on a grounder and scored on Flaherty’s wild pitch. Freeman chased Flaherty with an RBI single, and the lead swelled to four runs on a double steal by Ender Inciarte and Freeman. The Braves successfully challenged to get the call overturned that Freeman had been tagged out.READ MORE: UPDATED: Atlanta Weekend Violence Leaves 20 People Shot, Four Dead
Atlanta added a run to make it 6-2 in the seventh. Ender Inciarte doubled and scored when second baseman Kolten Wong threw errantly to first on a potential double play grounder.
Jedd Gyorko’s sacrifice fly in the eighth cut the lead to 6-3. Flowers’ eighth homer in the bottom half of the inning made it 7-3.
Harrison Bader was hit in the back of the helmet by a pitch in the third, but he convinced St. Louis’ trainers that he wasn’t affected and jogged to first.
The Braves had dropped eight straight home games to St. Louis since the start of the 2016 season.
Cardinals: RHP John Gant (7-6, 3.53 ERA) will make his 18th start when St. Louis, following a day off, opens a three-game home series against San Francisco. He allowed six hits and six runs in his previous start, a 17-4 loss to the Dodgers.
Braves: RHP Kevin Gausman (10-10, 3.92 ERA) will make his ninth start since being acquired in a trade with Baltimore as Atlanta tries to pad its lead on the Phillies. He is 3-0 with a 2.45 ERA in four starts at SunTrust Park.MORE NEWS: Stimulus Check Latest: Is A Fourth Relief Payment Coming?
By GEORGE HENRY, Associated Press