ATLANTA -- Staring at what would have been a demoralizing loss that would have uprooted frustrating memories of last October, the Braves produced what seemed to be their most thrilling comeback victory of the season.
Down to his last strike at Turner Field on Monday night, Freddie Freeman did not allow himself to be intimidated by Brian Wilson's presence. Instead, the rookie first baseman showed the calm of a veteran as he worked the count full against the bearded closer and delivered a two-run single that gave the Braves a 5-4 walk-off win over the Giants.
"It was an awesome ending," Braves starter Tim Hudson said after being let off the hook for the loss. "Thank God we won. I wouldn't have been able to sleep tonight if we had lost this game. We beat a good closer. We beat one of the best in the game."
Trailing by two runs entering the ninth, the Braves were in danger of their lead in the National League Wild Card race shrinking to three games. But with a string of patient plate appearances, they managed to conquer Wilson in the manner they had with a three-run 10th inning in an April 24 win in San Francisco.
On the way to increasing their Wild Card lead to five games over the Giants, the Braves fed off the playoff-like intensity that surrounded this game to avoid a third consecutive loss.
"It's a great rally, great win for us," Eric Hinske said after aiding this ninth-inning comeback. "That's a two-game swing right there."
Jose Constanza's second infield single of the game sparked the ninth-inning rally and Hinske followed with a six-pitch walk. After Michael Bourn's successful sacrifice bunt, Martin Prado cut the deficit to one run with a one-out RBI single to left field.
Wilson walked Brian McCann to load the bases and then quieted the threat with a strikeout of Dan Uggla. With a full count, two outs and the bases loaded, Freeman directed Wilson's fastball back up the middle to end the game.
"You know you're going to get a good pitch to hit," Freeman said. "It's just a matter of if it's going to be 91 or 96 [mph], a cutter or two-seamer. He threw me a two-seamer there and I was able to get the barrel on the ball up the middle. Right when I hit it, I knew we were scoring both runs."
After pinch-runner Julio Lugo and Prado scored easily, the Braves mobbed Freeman, who had been hitless in his six at-bats with the bases loaded this year. In addition, the 21-year-old first baseman had hit just .189 (11-for-59) with a full count before ending his six-pitch at-bat against Wilson in celebratory style.
"You look at the way he's played, you know this guy is way above his age and maturity level," Braves manager Fredi Gonzalez said. "He's come up big a few times in that situation. He doesn't panic. He doesn't let the situation get him excited or get him out of his plan."
Wilson, who missed Sunday's game against the Marlins with a sore back, was successful with each of his seven save opportunities against the Braves entering last year's postseason. In the five appearances he's since made against them, he is 0-2 and has blown two of four save opportunities.
"Today they hit the ball where they weren't," Wilson said. "A couple of ground balls that they were able to move the guys over [with], and they won the battle."
Leadoff home runs surrendered to Nate Schierholtz in the sixth and Mike Fontenot in the eighth accounted for the only earned runs surrendered by Hudson as he scattered five hits over eight innings. The only damage he suffered during the first five innings came during an ugly fourth that started with Bourn losing track of an Aubrey Huff liner that seemed to hit his left arm and then fall to the ground.
Hudson then issued a walk and hit a batter to load the bases for the second time in the game. This set the stage for Orlando Cabrera and Eli Whiteside to tie the game at 2 with consecutive sacrifice flies.
More bothersome to Hudson were the homers surrendered to Schierholtz and Fontenot, who had not homered since May 5.
"It would have been a tough one to swallow, one of the tougher ones of the year," Hudson said. "We felt like we had the game in hand. Then they tie it up. Then I make some pitches that I thought a couple of those guys couldn't handle, and they nuke both of them for homers."
The only support provided to Hudson through his eight innings came courtesy of Brian McCann's second-inning solo shot, which accounted for the first homer Giants starter Madison Bumgarner allowed a left-handed batter this year. It also gave the Braves' catcher two homers in his first five career at-bats (including the postseason) against Bumgarner.
Proving yet again to be a catalyst the Braves can't remove from the lineup, Constanza began his third three-hit game since July 31 with a second-inning RBI single that scored Freeman, who found himself celebrating and aching a couple hours later.
As he dressed at his locker, Freeman looked at his feet and said he was starting to feel the effect of being stomped by his teammates during the walk-off celebration.
"I'm starting to feel it now," Freeman said with a laugh. "Once the adrenaline wears off, it's really going to hurt."
Mark Bowman is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.