Freeman redemption lifts Braves into playoffs

Wed Sep 26, 2012 2:23am EDT

Freddie Freeman (C) catches a pop fly hit by Baltimore Orioles' Matt Wieters (32) during the first inning of a spring training baseball game at Ed Smith Stadium in Sarasota, Florida March 8, 2012. REUTERS/Steve Nesius

Freddie Freeman (C) catches a pop fly hit by Baltimore Orioles' Matt Wieters (32) during the first inning of a spring training baseball game at Ed Smith Stadium in Sarasota, Florida March 8, 2012.

Credit: Reuters/Steve Nesius

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(Reuters) - Freddie Freeman put the bitter ending to last season behind him with a walk-off, two-run home run that clinched a National League playoff berth for the Atlanta Braves on Tuesday.

Freeman blasted the game-winner to give the Braves a 4-3 win over the Miami Marlins, one year after he made the final out of the season that saw the team blow an 8 1/2-game lead in the wild card race.

"This is the coolest thing I've ever had happen to me in my life," Freeman told reporters after being mobbed by team mates celebrating Atlanta's return to the post-season.

"This is a dream come true. I just don't know what to say."

Atlanta (89-65) still have a chance to catch NL East leaders Washington, who they trail by four games.

In Houston, the St Louis Cardinals moved closer to sealing a playoff berth with a 4-0 win against the Houston Astros.

Jaime Garcia fired seven scoreless innings and the Cardinals (84-71) moved 4 1/2 games in front of Milwaukee (79-75) in the race for the National League's second wild card berth.

The Brewers fell 4-2 in Cincinnati as their hopes are looking slim with just eight games remaining.

In San Diego, the Los Angeles Dodgers also saw their playoff chances suffer after a 2-1 defeat dropped them 4 1/2 games adrift of a post-season spot.

In the American League, the Detroit Tigers shut out Kansas City 2-0 to tie the Chicago White Sox at the top of the AL Central.

Starting pitcher Anibal Sanchez threw a complete-game shutout featuring 10 strikeouts with just three hits and a walk.

The White Sox (82-72), who a day earlier had rallied to preserve their one-game lead in the division, nearly repeated the feat but ended up losing 4-3 at home to the Cleveland Indians.

Chicago trailed 4-2 in the ninth before Paul Konerko hit a solo home run to bring them closer and they put two men on base before Kansas City recorded the final out.

In Baltimore, the Orioles lost 4-0 to the Toronto Blue Jays to remain 1 1/2 games behind AL East leaders the New York Yankees.

The Yankees had a chance to stretch their advantage but failed to hold off Minnesota in a 5-4 defeat. The Twins rallied with a four-run seventh inning to snatch the win away from the visiting Yankees.

The Orioles (88-67) have lost two in a row but still top the AL wild card Standings by a half-game over Oakland (87-67).

The Athletics cut into Baltimore's lead with a hard-fought 3-2 triumph over first-place Texas in 10 innings.

George Kottaras delivered a solo blast in the top of the 10th to sink the Rangers (91-63) who lead Oakland by four games in the AL West.

The Los Angeles Angels, fighting to stay in the race, remained two behind the Athletics after a 5-4 home win over the Seattle Mariners.

Starting pitcher Zack Greinke struck out 13 Seattle batters in five innings to position Los Angeles (85-69) for the win.

"It's definitely a lot of fun," Angels outfielder Torii Hunter told reporters of the post-season chase.

"The intensity level is up, the fans are into it and that's what has kept us going."

(Writing by Jahmal Corner in Los Angeles; Editing by Peter Rutherford/John O'Brien)

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