Through the upheaval of a franchise under reconstruction, they emerged as weight-bearing beams to the Braves’ future. On Saturday, though, Julio Teheran and Freddie Freeman found themselves facing each other as adversaries for the first time, across the international divide of the World Baseball Classic.
Give this one to Colombian over the temporary Canadian.
Pitching five strong innings, an uncommonly fiery Teheran helped Colombia (1-1 in WBC first-round pool play) to a 4-1 victory over Canada (0-2).
As the winning pitcher in Colombia’s first-ever WBC victory, Teheran was a major player in a small bit of his nation’s baseball history. Yet, out of character, he refused requests to speak to the media afterward.
As for the game within the game between teammates, that essentially was a draw.
After appearing fidgety and uncomfortable on the mound in the first inning — giving up a walk and two singles to three of the first four Canadians he faced — Teheran settled in impressively from there. He retired the next 13 in a row, getting more efficient by the inning to squeeze five innings from this outing (there is a 65-pitch limit in the WBC first round).
One of those early hits was a Freeman single ripped past the Colombian first baseman to score Canada’s only run.
“It was definitely a little weird seeing him from the batter’s box,” Freeman said.
“He went first pitch in (edging Freeman off the plate), and then I thought he was going to try and throw some things by me. But he went 1-0 change-up, and I was able to reach out and hit it into right field.”
His teammate on every day but this then helped out his pitcher a little bit. Not exactly Donovan Bailey on the base paths — the momentum-challenged first baseman has 19 career major league stolen bases — Freeman was thrown out trying to steal second.
“I thought I was safe. He’s a 1.7 (seconds) to home plate. Trying to get two guys in, trying to put some pressure on them. Obviously the call didn’t go our way,” Freeman said.
Freeman would have dropped in another single in his other at-bat vs. Teheran had not the Colombians positioned their third baseman in shallow right field in an extreme shift against the pull-hitting left-hander. Overall, Freeman ended the day 2-for-4, his other hit a single when he barely beat out the throw of that pesky third baseman playing on the opposite side of the diamond.
He had no doubt that he would be well-scouted, given the identity of Colombia’s starter. “Julio’s on that team, so it didn’t surprise me,” Freeman said. “I’ve never been shifted that big.”
For his five innings of work — 61 pitches — Teheran allowed but the single run, two hits, striking out three and walking one. Striking out former Brave Pete Orr to end the fifth inning, Teheran let loose a big fist pump and a loud shout, demonstrating considerably more emotion than he usually would expend this time of spring.
The motivation for the two Braves came from different places. Freeman, a Californian, chose his team as a tribute to his late Canadian-born mother. For Teheran, this appearance was all about country.
Only 16 when the Braves drafted him, Saturday represented his first opportunity to play wearing Colombia’s colors. “I’m really excited. It’s a great honor. It’s the biggest pride,” he said back at Braves camp before leaving for the WBC. “When I put my jersey on I’m going to feel the energy.” Teheran wore that energy on his sleeve Saturday.
The anticipation was high for both parties. For weeks leading to Saturday’s game, Freeman and Teheran bantered back and forth inside the Braves clubhouse at the Disney complex.
Well, Freeman mostly.
“Just making fun. We’re both excited,” Teheran said.
“Yeah, I do (dish out the majority of the smack),” Freeman said earlier in the week. “I’m just hoping if all goes well I’ll get two doubles off him and, like, four RBI. Then I could really have the upper hand on him all year.”
Didn’t quite work out that way.
No, for whatever weight one afternoon in the WBC will carry, Teheran can bring it to bear against his first baseman for as long as he chooses.