ATLANTA -- Yet another October stage beckoned David Freese at SunTrust Park on Monday night. The Dodgers trailed by a run in the sixth inning of Game 4, and Freese had been tasked with pinch-hitting and changing the trajectory of the National League Division Series."That's just where I want to
ATLANTA -- Yet another October stage beckoned David Freese at SunTrust Park on Monday night. The Dodgers trailed by a run in the sixth inning of Game 4, and Freese had been tasked with pinch-hitting and changing the trajectory of the National League Division Series.
"That's just where I want to be," Freese would say. "I think about this all the time."
So Freese strode into the batter's box, a lifetime's worth of postseason accolades already on his resume. And, at 35, he added one more.
Freese worked the count full against Braves right-hander Brad Brach, then he smashed a 96-mph fastball back through the middle. Shortstop Charlie Culberson dove for it but had no chance. Two men scored, the Dodgers had the lead, and they never looked back en route to a 6-2 victory and a third straight trip to the NL Championship Series.
• Dress for the NLCS: Get Dodgers postseason gear
Freese wasn't a part of the first two. He didn't arrive in Los Angeles until August 31, when a trade with Pittsburgh landed the Dodgers another integral piece in their strategic super-platoon.
:: NLDS schedule and results ::
Freese would serve as a middle-of-the-order threat against left-handed pitching and a useful pinch-hitter otherwise. In 19 regular-season games with Los Angeles, he batted .385 and slugged .641. But more than anything, the Dodgers had October in mind.
"There are certain types of players that can really succeed in that setting," said Dodgers general manager Farhan Zaidi. "... That was a huge part of our thought process in acquiring him."
This, of course, isn't Freese's first foray into the NLCS. It's not even his first NLCS against the Brewers. In 2011, his first trip to the postseason, Freese batted .545 with three homers, as the Cardinals dispatched the Brewers in six games and Freese was named series MVP.
"A lot's happened since the last time I played Milwaukee in the postseason, huh?" he said.
Freese followed with a World Series MVP and two of the biggest hits in Cardinals history -- a game-tying triple in the ninth inning of Game 6, and a walk-off home run two innings later. He returned to the playoffs in each of the next three seasons, and he continued to thrive.
It had been three years since Freese's last trip to the postseason when the Dodgers came calling. He's marked his return in a big way. In Game 1, he added an insurance run with a late sacrifice fly. The moment was bigger in Game 4.
The Braves had loaded the bases with one out in the previous half-inning, only for righty reliever Ryan Madson to induce a pair of weak popups on the infield. The momentum swung.
Enrique Hernandez and Yasiel Puig singled in the sixth, then Puig stole second. With Freese coming up, the Braves called for Brach. Manager Dave Roberts was just fine leaving Freese in the game to face a righty.
This was Freese's stage, after all.
"Putting him in a spot in a big moment, you just can bet on the pulse," said Roberts. "He's obviously come up with some big hits for us in such a short period of time. But obviously this is probably the biggest one. We're lucky to have him."
That feeling is clearly mutual for Freese.
"You never know if you're going to get back," said Freese, temporarily ducking out of yet another champagne-soaked celebration he played an integral role in creating. "Obviously, my career is winding down. I expected to be in Pittsburgh on August 31 after the [deadline].
"We were here actually. The game is over and I'm like, 'Man, half-hour until September 1st. I think I'm sticking around.' I get off the bus and get the phone call. Next thing you know, I'm on the plane at 5 a.m. going to L.A. to hang out with these guys.
"It's crazy. You never know what this game is going to give you, what opportunities arise for you. You just gotta be ready."
Freese, it seems, always is.
AJ Cassavell covers the Padres for MLB.com. Follow him on Twitter @ajcassavell.