ATLANTA — Freddie Freeman homered and drove in three runs on a four-hit night, leading the Atlanta Braves to a 7-4 victory in their home opener Wednesday against the Tampa Bay Rays.
Freeman, who was stricken with the coronavirus before the shortened season and became so ill that he feared for his life, has quickly reclaimed his place as one of Major League Baseball's most feared hitters.
He hit his first homer of the season in the third inning, a two-run shot into the empty seats in right field, then added an RBI single that capped a three-run sixth after Tampa Bay pulled ahead with three runs in the top half.
The Braves snapped Tampa Bay's four-game winning streak as the teams met for the third straight time, having played in St. Petersburg, Florida, the two previous nights.
Tampa Bay scrapped out an unearned run off Mike Soroka in the fifth and pulled ahead for the first time in the sixth, doing the bulk of the damage after Darren O'Day (1-0) took over for the Atlanta starter. With two outs, Kevin Kiermaier drove in the tying run and Hunter Renfroe followed with a two-run single that put the Ray ahead 4-2.
However, the Tampa Bay bullpen couldn't hold the lead for Charlie Morton, who gave up six hits, walked one batter and struck out seven in a much-improved performance from opening day.
Andrew Kittredge gave up back-to-back doubles, retiring only one hitter before giving way to Oliver Drake (0-1). The funky right-hander had a chance to escape with the lead intact, but Willy Adames bobbled a high chopper by Ozzie Albies that was ruled an infield hit.
Freeman followed with his fourth hit of the night, lining an RBI single to right-center field. Albies was thrown out at third to end the inning, but Ender Inciarte had already crossed the plate with the go-ahead run.
Atlanta added to its lead with two more runs in the seventh. Mark Melancon worked a perfect ninth for his first save of the year.
The Rays denied Freeman another RBI in the first after he launched a drive to deep right that sailed beyond the glove of Renfroe and bounced off the wall.
Kiermaier, racing over from center to back up on the play, was in perfect position to catch the ricochet. He wheeled and threw to second baseman Brandon Lowe, who zipped another throw home that just was just in time to get Ronald Acuña Jr. as he attempted to elude the tag with a head-first slide.
While no fans were allowed inside Truist Park, it wasn't an entirely fan-free game.
At the neighboring Omni Hotel, several dozen people watched from the balconies of prime rooms that provide a view of the playing field. Other were able to get a glimpse of the action from the railing of the hotel's pool deck.
After missing the opening road trip with bad colds, Atlanta catchers Travis d'Arnaud and Tyler Flowers both rejoined the roster. There were fears that the duo may have contracted the coronavirus, but multiple tests came back negative. D'Arnaud got his first start with the Braves, facing the team he played for last season.
Also Wednesday, veteran outfielder Nick Markakis announced he is returning to the Braves, three weeks after opting out of the season due to his concerns about the coronavirus.