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CIN@ATL: All-Star Freeman shines at plate, on defense

ATLANTA -- After millions of fans voted Freddie Freeman into the 2013 All-Star Game, and over 40,000 of them saluted him with a standing ovation before his first at-bat on Thursday night, the Braves first baseman wasted little time rewarding them for their efforts, ripping the first pitch he saw into right-center field for a two-run double to spark the Atlanta offense.

"You want to go out there and deliver for them, and to come up in the first inning with guys on base and come through, it felt like a weight came off my shoulders," said Freeman.

Freeman celebrated his first career All-Star selection with a four-RBI night, and the Braves held on to hand starter Tim Hudson his second consecutive victory with a 6-5 win over the Reds.

Following the example of Chipper Jones, who turned in a 5-for-5 performance last year on the day he was announced as a late addition to the 2012 National League All-Star roster, Freeman went 3-for-4 with two singles and a double after being added to the 2013 NL roster as the winner of the NL Final Vote, receiving a record 19.7 million fan votes to beat out Yasiel Puig, Hunter Pence, Ian Desmond and Adrian Gonzalez.

"He had a terrific night, he really did," manager Fredi Gonzalez said of Freeman, who saw his average rise to .313 and who leads the Braves with 60 RBIs through 92 games. "After he gets named by the fans to the All-Star team, he doesn't let them down. There was a lot of support, and he came through today and got some RBIs, got some big knocks when he had to."

Freeman collected three straight hits before flying out to left field in the sixth, and his acrobatic stretch at first base helped complete an inning-ending 6-4-3 double play that prevented a Cincinnati run in the fifth.

"He's been a great hitter for us pretty much ever since he's been in the big leagues with us," Hudson said. "I'm pretty sure this isn't going to be his last [All-Star nod], but it's nice for him to get what he deserves. There's no question about it, he deserves to be there, and unfortunately it had to go down to a vote. He should've been one of the guys in there off the start."

Hudson ran into early trouble in the form of back-to-back RBI singles by Brandon Phillips and Jay Bruce, needing 30 pitches to get through the first inning. He settled in to scatter five hits over the next six frames, leaving after 107 pitches with three earned runs on eight hits and two walks to his name. The veteran right-hander retired the final seven Reds batters he faced.

"From the third or fourth inning on, I felt a lot more comfortable throwing some offspeed pitches for strikes," Hudson said. "Obviously when you get a lead, it's a lot easier to go up there and try to execute pitches and be more aggressive in the strike zone."

Cincinnati clawed back into the game after Atlanta's offense reclaimed the lead. Shin-Soo Choo led off the third inning with a double and came around to score after a pair of sacrifice hits courtesy of Zack Cozart and Joey Votto. Then, with two Reds runners on base in the fifth inning, third baseman Chris Johnson made a diving stop of a ground ball to deny Votto a sure RBI, but Johnson's throw to second base from his knees skipped into right field, allowing Choo to score on the throwing error.

The Reds threatened again in the eighth after a double by Phillips brought home Cozart and cut the Atlanta lead to one, but Jordan Walden got Chris Heisey to fly out with runners on first and second to end the inning and preserve Hudson's decision.

"It wasn't the cleanest of ballgames on either side, but it was exciting for sure," Hudson said.

The Braves added another name to their growing list of injuries heading into the All-Star break when right fielder Jason Heyward left the game with a strained right hamstring in the bottom of the second inning. Heyward appeared to pull up running to third on Justin Upton's infield single and stayed down holding his right leg after sliding safely into third base. Reed Johnson stepped in as his replacement in right field and delivered a go-ahead RBI triple down the left-field line that kicked off the scoring in a three-run fourth inning that chased Reds starter Mat Latos.

"We have to evaluate him in the morning, and then hopefully it doesn't manifest itself into something worse than it is right now," Gonzalez said of Heyward.

The Braves' other All-Star, closer Craig Kimbrel, came on in the ninth to record his 25th save of the season, recovering from a leadoff single to strike out the next two batters and induce a game-ending flyout off the bat of Cozart. But no one would outshine the performance of the newest addition to the Midsummer Classic on Thursday night.

"He's attacking the first pitch, he was in attack mode," Reds manager Dusty Baker said of Freeman. "A lot of times when you're not hitting well, you're in non-aggressive take mode. Right now, Freddie Freeman is attacking. He's riding high. The All-Star selection, he has everything right now going for him. It's probably a joy to be Freddie Freeman right now."

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