Baseball / MLB

Braves clinch NL East again

AP

Freddie Freeman didn’t care that his eyes kept tearing up from all the beer and champagne soakings.

It seemed like every teammate stopped by to blast him, and he loved every minute of it.

“This is the first step of hopefully a few celebrations to come,” he said with a big, wet smile. “We’re excited. We’ve got a really good ballclub. We’re just getting started.”

The Atlanta Braves clinched their second straight NL East title as Ronald Acuna Jr. hit his 41st homer in a 6-0 win over San Francisco on Friday night that eliminated the Giants from postseason contention in Bruce Bochy’s last year as manager.

Acuna scored three runs to back Mike Foltynewicz (8-5), who allowed three hits in eight innings. Atlanta’s 19th division title tied the New York Yankees for the most since Major League Baseball split into divisions for the 1969 season.

The Braves’ win ensured it will finish ahead of second-place Washington and will start the NL Division Series at home on Oct. 3, most likely against the NL Central champion.

Atlanta players ran onto the infield to celebrate as soon as Acuna caught Alex Dickerson’s game-ending flyout.

The Braves (95-60) moved into sole possession of first place for good on June 12.

Led by Acuna, Freeman, Josh Donaldson and an offense that has produced a franchise-best 241 homers, Atlanta’s lead swelled from 5½ to 10 games in six days ending with a 9-4 home win over Washington on Sept. 7.

“Last year I kept running around with blinders on wondering if we were good enough to pull it off,” Braves manager Brian Snitker said. “This year, as went, it was like we’re pretty good. Nobody gave us a chance early, and it was good to see these guys get on a roll. Just took care of business, winning a lot of first games and winning a lot of series. That was big.”

Atlanta, which not won a postseason series since 2001, secured a postseason berth last week and needed a few extra days to clinch the division. The Braves lost three in a row for the first time since July 16-18 but have won two straight.

Bochy was given a standing ovation when a video tribute was played before the second inning. The 64-year-old is retiring after 25 seasons as a major league manager, including 13 years in San Francisco highlighted by three World Series titles. He managed his 2,000th regular-season win this week.

Foltynewicz, who also won last year’s clincher in Game No. 155, is 4-0 with an 0.69 ERA in four starts this month. He has won seven straight decisions in a span interrupted by a six-start demotion to Triple-A Gwinnett, but Atlanta has won his last 12 starts, the longest streak in the majors this year.

Josh Tomlin finished a four-hitter.

Freeman’s sacrifice fly in the first and Ozzie Albies’ RBI single in the second built a lead. Acuna hit a two-run homer in the fourth and Brian McCann added a two-run homer in the sixth off Tyler Beede (5-10), who allowed seven hits in six innings.

Acuna has been a catalyst the last two nights.

“This kid is liable to go off for the next two weeks and be in a really good place when we start the playoffs,” Snitker said. “You can kind of see the evidence of that tonight.”

Mike Yastrzemski had all three hits for the Giants (74-80).

Acuna, the reigning NL Rookie of the Year became the 14th-youngest player reach 100 RBIs in a season at 21 years, 276 days. On Thursday he joined Mel Ott and Eddie Mathews as the only players to hit 40 homers prior to their 22nd birthday.

Acuna has 126 runs and needs six to break Dale Murphy’s franchise season record, set in 1983.

Rays 5, Red Sox 4 (11)

In St. Petersburg, Florida, defending World Series champion Boston was mathematically eliminated in the late innings, then lost to Tampa Bay when Willy Adames had an RBI single in the 11th.

A year after going 108-54 to win their third straight AL East title, the Red Sox (80-73) were knocked out during the ninth inning when Cleveland beat Philadelphia, around the time Mitch Moreland hit his second two-run homer.

Tampa Bay (91-63) remained tied with Cleveland for the second AL wild card, trailing Oakland.

Mike Brosseau and Daniel Robertson drew two-out walks in the 11th from Trevor Kelley (0-3), and Adames lined a single to left that scored pinch-runner Johnny Davis from second base.

Diego Castillo (4-8) struck out Moreland with a runner on first to end the top of the 11th.

In Other Games

Cardinals 2, Cubs 1

Indians 5, Phillies 2

Mets 8, Reds 1

Nationals 6, Marlins 4

Twins 4, Royals 3

Brewers 10, Pirates 1

Orioles 5, Mariners 3

Blue Jays 4, Yankees 3

White Sox 10, Tigers 1

Astros 6, Angels 4

Diamondbacks 9, Padres 0

Athletics 8, Rangers 0

Dodgers 12, Rockies 5

GET THE BEST OF THE JAPAN TIMES
IN FIVE EASY PIECES WITH TAKE 5