Hank Aaron never did it. Eddie Mathews never did it. Neither did Dale Murphy, Bob Horner, Joe Adcock. But Freddie Freeman has done it twice.
The 31-year-old first baseman of the Atlanta Braves not only hit for the cycle in Miami Wednesday night but did it for the second time in his career. He also fortified his defense of the National League’s Most Valuable Player Award, which longs for a companion on the Freeman trophy shelf.
In addition to Freeman, leading contenders for the trophy are former winner Bryce Harper of the Philadelphia Phillies, slugging infielder Max Muncy of the Los Angeles Dodgers, and Fernando Tatis Jr. of the San Diego Padres. Voters often favor division title winners — giving Freeman an advantage if the Braves win their fourth NL East crown in a row.
Freeman’s fireworks, which came in the first six innings of Atlanta’s 11-9 win and series sweep over the Marlins Wednesday night, were his way of telling the MVP voters that he has every intention of keeping the award.
His explosion pushed his batting average over .300 – an amazing accomplishment for a player hitting .224 as recently as June 9. Over the past two months, the 6’5″ left-handed hitter has produced a .372 average and 1.044 OPS (on-base plus slugging).
Batting in the No. 3 lineup spot he prefers after spending much of the first half hitting second, Freeman is the chief reason the Braves have rebounded from seven-and-a-half games out in mid-June to three-and-a-half up as play began Thursday. And the Braves have done it without injured sluggers Marcell Ozuna and Ronald Acuna Jr., like Freeman a National League All-Star.
Acuna Jr. suffered tore his ACL in the act of fielding a Jazz Chisholm drive on July 10 and needed surgery to repair the knee damage, while Ozuna fractured two fingers sliding head-first in Boston and was arrested for alleged domestic assault a few days later.
Atlanta has since acquired outfielders Adam Duvall, Joc Pederson, Eddie Rosario, and Jorge Soler – deals that paid off almost immediately. The team that was five-games under .500 (30-35) on June 16 started to stabilize – especially in the bullpen – before becoming red-hot as the sultry Summer of ‘21 moved into August.
Freeman was the driving force behind the 13-2 record posted by the Braves starting August 3. All he did since then was hit .386 with a 1.094 OPS.
Since hitting is often contagious, fellow Atlanta infielders Austin Riley, Dansby Swanson, and Ozzie Albies joined in the fun. All have hit more than 20 home runs this season.
“I was just doing everything I could to not come out of my approach,” Freeman told reporters afterward. “It was working so well the first three at-bats. Everyone knew that I needed just the home run there. To be able to do it in four consecutive [plate appearances] was pretty cool. It’s definitely a special night that I’ll always remember.”
In the sixth inning, MLB Network posted CYCLE ALERT on its screen and telecast Freeman’s at-bat against Miami righty Luis Madero. The soft-spoken but hard-hitting first baseman responded with a long home run to center field, joining Trea Turner and Jake Cronenworth as the only major-leaguers to ride cycles this season.
Freeman, who also did it in 2016, doubled in the first, tripled in the fourth, and singled in he fifth before clearing the fence in Florida. The only other Atlanta players to do it were Mark Kotsay and Albert Hall, with long-ago Brave Herman Long and Freeman the only ones to turn the rare trick twice.
Just nine times in franchise history, including Boston and Milwaukee, has anyone hit for the cycle.
Thanks to Freeman, the Braves won their sixth in a row and tenth straight game on the road – best in the big leagues this season. They now travel to Baltimore, where they will face the team with the worst record in the majors.
With Camden Yards an inviting target and Orioles pitchers getting plastered all season, Freeman looks forward to the weekend.
“I obviously didn’t get off to the start I wanted to this year,” he told Mark Bowman of MLB.com, “but luckily, it wasn’t a 60-game season. For two or three months now, I’ve been doing pretty well. I’ve still got six or seven weeks to close this thing out. So I’ve just got to keep going.”
Like Chipper Jones in 1999, Freeman roared down the stretch last year to nail down an MVP that was only two shorts shy of a unanimous vote. He’s obviously trying the same late drive for the award again.
In addition to his goal of reaching the World Series for the first time, Freeman knows his performance will sweeten the contract offer he’s anticipating from the Braves.
According to Spotrac, he is finishing up an eight-year, $135 million pact that pays him $22 million this season. He won’t turn 32 until mid-September and is arguably the best first baseman – offensively and defensively – in baseball.
A .295 lifetime hitter before this season, he led the National League in runs scored last year and is leading in that category again. He’s durable too, having played every game in three different seasons, including 2020.
Should Freeman keep the MVP, he’ll join Murphy as the ones Braves ever to win two in a row. Even the great Hank Aaron won the coveted honor only once.