By PAUL NEWBERRY
ATLANTA (AP) — Freddie Freeman was fearing for his life not that long ago.
Never would’ve known it the way he played in the Braves’ home opener.
Freeman homered and drove in three runs on a four-hit night, leading Atlanta to a 7-4 victory over the Tampa Bay Rays on Wednesday.
“He’s a special guy,” manager Brian Snitker said.
Freeman was stricken with the coronavirus early in workouts for the shortened season — a frightening ordeal that led him to pray for his life when his temperature climbed to 104.5 degrees.
Amazingly, with only about a week to prepare after recovering from the virus, he came through with the sort of performance that has made him one of the game’s most feared hitters.
“I feel pretty good,” Freeman said. “Every day, I get better. I’m probably at 95, 96, 97%.”
This certainly felt a lot better than his showing on Tuesday, when he served as the designated hitter at Tampa Bay. Freeman struck out four times and left seven runners stranded in a 5-2 loss.
“I’m not sure I’m cut out to be a DH,” Freeman quipped. “But that’s the beauty of this game. You can come back today and switch it up a little bit.”
He hit his first homer of the season in the third, a two-run shot into the empty seats in right field. On his way to the dugout, Freeman pointed toward a luxury box where Hall of Famer Hank Aaron was watching the game.
“I got to show off for Mr. Aaron,” Freeman said. “That’s an all-around good night.”
He 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 again after playing in St. Petersburg 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.
But the Tampa Bay bullpen couldn’t hold the lead for Charlie Morton, who gave up six hits, walked one 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 shortstop Willy Adames, cutting across the infield, bobbled a high chopper by Ozzie Albies that was ruled an infield hit.
“Those kind of games, they’re going to happen,” said Adames, who was charged with a throwing error in the seventh that led to another Atlanta run. “We’re going to have to try to cut it out and don’t let it happen a lot. This is a short season. We can’t be making those mistakes.”
Freeman followed with his fourth hit of the night, lining an RBI single to right-center. Albies was thrown out at third to end the inning, but Ender Inciarte had already crossed the plate with the go-ahead run.
Mark Melancon worked a perfect ninth for the save in his season debut.
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.
ROOMS WITH A VIEW
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.
“We heard the people from the Omni,” Freeman said. “That’s nice.”
Braves: After missing the opening road trip with bad colds, Cs Travis d’Arnaud and Tyler Flowers both rejoined the roster. There were fears that the catching duo may have contracted the coronavirus, but multiple tests came back negative. D’Arnaud got his first start with the Braves, going 1-for3 with an RBI and a run scored against the team he played for last season.
Rays: OF Austin Meadows (positive coronavirus test) continues to show improvement and may be able to join the roster when the team returns to Tampa Bay for a homestand that begins next Tuesday. … 1B Ji-Man Choi was not in the lineup after leaving the previous game with a sore right shoulder.
The teams will face each other for the final time this season on Thursday. LH Max Fried (0-0) goes for the Braves against LH Ryan Yarbrough (0-0), who pitched 5 1/3 scoreless in his first start.