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Freddie Freeman launches Braves into NLCS with 8th-inning HR off Josh Hader

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Josh Hader usually saves his All-Star stuff for the ninth inning as one of baseball's best closers. 

Thanks to an unfortunate hand injury to bullpen mate Devin Williams, he got eighth-inning duty in a tie game in the NLDS on Tuesday. Freddie Freeman was ready. The reigning NL MVP launched a two-out, first-pitch solo home run over the center field wall to secure a 5-4 lead in Game 4 of the NLDS.

Braves closer Will Smith did his job in the ninth as Atlanta finished off a 3-1 series win to book a trip to the NLCS, where they'll face either the Los Angeles Dodgers and San Francisco Giants. 

The victory means a second straight NLCS appearance for the Braves, who lost in seven games to the eventual World Series champion Dodgers in 2020. For the Brewers, the result marks a bitter end to a 95-win season that carried hopes of a World Series title.

ATLANTA, GEORGIA - OCTOBER 12: Freddie Freeman #5 of the Atlanta Braves runs to third during the sixth inning against the Milwaukee Brewers in game four of the National League Division Series at Truist Park on October 12, 2021 in Atlanta, Georgia. (Photo by Michael Zarrilli/Getty Images)
Freddie Freeman socked a go-ahead homer to send the Braves to the NLCS. (Photo by Michael Zarrilli/Getty Images)

Devin Williams' broken hand comes into play

Milwaukee entered the postseason with one of baseball's best pitching staffs featuring three All-Star starters in Brandon Woodruff, Corbin Burnes and Freddy Peralta and arguably baseball's best bullpen tandem in three-time All-Star Hader and Williams, who won Rookie of the Year and Reliever of the Year in 2020. 

But Williams broke his pitching hand by punching a wall after celebrating Milwaukee's NL Central win, admitting that he had too much to drink. He was ruled out of the NLDS and wasn't available for his normal spot in the eighth inning on Tuesday. 

Freeman's home run off of Hader on an 84 mph slider was the first Hader had allowed since July 28 and the first he allowed to left-handed hitter since Sept. 12, 2020. 

Braves survive battle of bullpens

Reliever Tyler Matzek picked up the win for Atlanta while Hader is credited for the loss in a game where both teams relied heavily on their bullpens. Neither Braves starter Charlie Morton nor Brewers starter Eric Lauer made it out of the fourth inning in a game that saw 12 total pitchers take the mound. 

Each team scored two runs apiece in the fourth and fifth innings, and the game remained deadlocked at 4-4 after the fifth until Freeman's go-ahead home run. Travis d'Arnaud, and Joc Pederson also picked up RBIs for the Braves while Eddie Rosario's pinch-hit single in the fourth knocked in two runs to tie the game at 4-4.

The Braves could have potentially scored more in the fourth, but an MLB rule that doesn't allow replay reviews on infield fly balls meant that a bad out call on an Adam Duvall pop-up wasn't eligible for review

Instead of a series-altering officiating mistake, the play will go down as a footnote and potential fodder for changing the MLB rulebook. 

The Braves split their regular-season series with the Giants, 3-3 and lost their season series with the Dodgers, 2-4. Despite winning only 88 games, Atlanta would host NLCS Game 1, and have home-field advantage in the series, if the 106-win Dodgers prevail by virtue of winning their division.

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