Freeman’s dramatic drive off Mike Dunn clinched at least a National League wild-card berth for the Braves, who squandered a big lead in the wild-card race with a huge collapse last September.
Longtime star Chipper Jones, who plans to retire at the end of the season, led off the ninth with a double. He moved to third on a wild pitch by Dunn (0-3) and scored when Freeman’s 22nd homer easily cleared the center-field wall.
“There was never any doubt,” Jones said during the clubhouse celebration. “We knew that last year was somewhat of a fluke.”
Craig Kimbrel (3-1) worked a scoreless inning to help the Braves win their 22nd straight game started by Kris Medlen. The streak is the longest in the majors since the New York Yankees won 22 consecutive games started by Whitey Ford in 1950 and ’53.
Returning to the postseason helps wipe away some of last season’s frustration for the Braves, who blew an 8½-game lead in the wild-card standings and finished 9-18 in September. They missed the playoffs after one of the biggest collapses in baseball history.
This year, Atlanta cruised most of the way and wrapped up a postseason spot with more than a week to spare. And the Braves still have a chance to catch first-place Washington in the NL East. They moved within four games of the Nationals, who lost to Philadelphia 6-3, with eight to play.
“We are shooting for the stars,” Jones said. “It makes it all worth it. I’m happier for these guys because they worked hard.”
While he was being interviewed on television, the 40-year-old slugger was doused with bubbly and beer by teammates in a jubilant clubhouse.
“I am so cold right now!” he said.
Four of the five NL playoff spots are secured. In addition to Atlanta, Washington, Cincinnati and San Francisco have all punched their tickets to the postseason.
The second-place Braves have a comfortable cushion in the wild-card race, and St. Louis leads the chase for the league’s second wild card.