ATLANTA — Freddie Freeman said before Friday’s game that the Braves couldn’t wait any longer to get their offense going, they had to start playing better now if they hoped to catch the Nationals.
He talked the talk, then he and the Braves walked the walk, smashing four homers in a 7-2, series-opening win against American League power Oakland, the team with the best record in baseball.
Freeman hit a three-run homer, Justin Upton and Evan Gattis had solo shots, and rookie Phil Gosselin added a two-run homer for the Braves who won for the fourth time in 16 games. It the second four-homer game on the homestand for the Braves, who’ve hit just two other homers in their past 14 games.
The level of run support amounted to overkill on a night when Braves starter Alex Wood (9-9) continued in his recent groove, allowing four hits, two runs and three walks in six innings to give him a 2-1 record and 1.71 ERA in his past four starts.
“Obviously, it’s a big series,” Freeman said before the game. “We are six back of the Nationals (in the National League East standings). Everybody wants to say you can’t panic, but the time is now. We’ve got to go. We’ve got to start scoring some runs. Our pitching has been awesome all year. We have to take it as an offense to get going. … The time is now to see what our club is about.”
After piling up 12 strikeouts in his last start against the Nationals, Wood had one strikeout against the Athletics. But he made big pitches when he needed them and retired the last eight batters he faced after giving up three consecutive hits to start the fourth inning, including a two-run homer by Nate Freiman that cut the lead to 5-2.
It was just the third time in 15 games that the Braves scored more than three runs, and second time they scored more than four. On both of those latter occasions the Braves did it entirely with the long ball — four homers for seven runs against the Nationals’ Stephen Strasburg on Aug. 8, and seven runs on four homers Friday.
They pounded out three homers in the first three innings off Athletics starter Jason Hammel, who left without recording an out in the fourth and with his team trailing 5-0. Hammel was charged with six hits and five runs and fell to 1-5 with a 6.75 ERA in seven starts since being traded from the Cubs to the A’s.
After the A’s pulled to within 5-2, Gosselin pushed the lead back to five runs with his two-run shot in the sixth, his first major league homer in his 27th career at-bat and fifth start over two seasons. Gosselin also made a strong showing defensively at shortstop filling in for Andrelton Simmons, who had a dental procedure Friday for an abscessed tooth.
Wood, after throwing a career-high 124 pitches in 7 1/3 innings against the Nationals on Sunday, walked two of the first three batters Friday. But after those consecutive one-out walks to Jonny Gomes and Josh Donaldson, the left-hander picked off Gomes at second, which turned out to be significant.
Gomes was called safe, but the ruling was challenged by Braves manager Fredi Gonzalez and overturned after video review. Derek Norris followed with a single to left field before Frieman grounded out to end the inning.
Wood retired the side in order in the second inning on a pair of groundouts and a pop-up in the second, but by that point he had thrown 45 pitches to get six outs, including 20 pitches for the last two outs of the second inning.
He was considerably more economical from that point, needing 51 pitches over the next four innings.
After Upton and Gattis each homered in the second inning for a 2-0 lead, Freeman launched a three-run shot to straightaway center in the third inning to push the margin to 5-0. Heyward and Gosselin hit consecutive one-out singles before Freeman laid into an 0-1 slider for his 17th homer this season and his 20th hit in 12 games.
Upton led off the second with a homer to the left-center bleachers, and one out later Gattis drove a ball to the center-field seats left of the dark “batter’s eye” backdrop for a 2-0 lead.
Fifteen of Upton’s 22 home runs have come at Turner Field, tied for the second-most homers at home in the majors this season. He has three homers and nine RBIs in his past eight home games.
Gattis hit his 18th homer of the season but only his second in 21 games since returning from a three-week stint on the disabled list for a bulging disk in his upper back. His home run rate of one every 16.5 at-bats would rank among the National League’s top three if Gattis had enough at-bats to qualify.