The legend of David Freese, postseason hero

October 9th, 2019

WASHINGTON -- Dodgers infielder says it’s all a matter of opportunity, this knack for compiling postseason moments like some players collect signed jerseys or baseballs.

Oh, and there’s also this:

“I’m not that terrible during the regular season,” Freese said with a laugh after logging his latest October highlight, a little opposite-field single with two outs in the sixth inning of Game 3 of the National League Division Series on Sunday.

That hit sparked a Dodgers rally the likes of which we’d never before seen in a playoff game, and it added to Freese’s October aura. He’s 36 now, eight years removed from his heroics in the 2011 postseason in which he made his name while privately battling personal pain. This could be Freese’s last hurrah, though he said the same thing last year and wound up returning to L.A. on another one-year deal.

So who knows whether Game 5 of the NLDS on Wednesday at Dodger Stadium will be Freese’s last chance to add to a postseason legacy that spans 14 playoff series over six seasons for three teams. His pinch-hit single in the ninth inning of the Dodgers’ Game 4 loss to the Nationals on Monday night boosted Freese’s lifetime average in the postseason to .300 (61-for-203) with nearly half of those hits (29) going for extra bases.

“I’ve been around long enough to be decent. ” Freese said. “When you get a chance -- a lot of chances, over 200 at-bats in the postseason -- hopefully you come through sometimes. It’s just fun to be a part of it and help.”

That, his teammates said, was Freese being humble.

“Yeah, the more opportunities you get, the more chances you're going to have to succeed,” said Enrique Hernández. “But when he's done it for however long he's done it, I don't think that's [chance] -- I just think it's in him.”

Here’s a look back in time at some of those impactful October hits:

2019 NLDS, Game 3

It was a case of staying calm in a big moment: two outs and Cody Bellinger at first base in the sixth inning of a game the Dodgers trailed, 2-1. Freese, pinch-hitting to get the platoon advantage against nasty Nationals left-hander Patrick Corbin, punched a base hit against Washington’s shift to keep the inning alive. And the Dodgers kept hitting, scoring seven runs to match the 2007 Red Sox and ‘10 Giants for the biggest two-out rallies in postseason history. Unlike Boston and San Francisco, however, all of Los Angeles’ run-scoring hits came with two strikes.

“I think that’s just a freak thing, and that happened,” Freese said. “We just fight. You get here by fighting. You get here by being confident. Pass the baton and move the chain.”

2018 NLDS, Game 4

The Dodgers traded for Freese on Aug. 31, 2018, so he’d be eligible for October, and it paid off against the Braves. In Game 4, with the Dodgers ahead in the series, 2-1 -- but trailing in the game, 2-1 -- Freese came off the bench in the sixth inning and smacked a two-run single off Brad Brach for the go-ahead hit in Los Angeles’ 6-2 victory. It sent the Dodgers to their third straight NL Championship Series.

"There are certain types of players that can really succeed in that setting," said then-Dodgers general manager Farhan Zaidi, who has since moved to the Giants. "That was a huge part of our thought process in acquiring him."

2012 NLCS, Game 1

The 88-win Cardinals had targets on their backs entering the 2012 postseason after winning the World Series the year before. They made it to the first NL Wild Card Game and beat the Braves, then topped the Nationals in the NLDS. And Freese got them off to a good start in the NLCS in San Francisco with a second-inning, two-run home run off Madison Bumgarner, helping to chase the Giants’ ace after six earned runs in 3 2/3 innings of a 6-4 Cards win. They pushed that series to a decisive Game 7 before falling.

"You know, the regular season is such a grind," Freese said that night, according to ESPN. "You get caught up, obviously, in wanting to win. But you also can get caught up in wanting your numbers. But when you get to the postseason, you sit back and say, 'Man, this is fun.’ And you want to live to [play] the next day. And there's nothing better than that."

2011 World Series, Game 6

This was the night for which Freese will be most remembered when his career comes to a close. With his hometown Cardinals facing elimination against the Rangers, and Freese down to his last strike with two outs in the bottom of the ninth inning, he connected for a tying triple against Rangers closer Neftalí Feliz, then forced a Game 7 two innings later with a home run leading off the 11th. The Cards went on to be World Series champions with a 6-2 victory over Texas the next day.

That’s the legacy he brought to the Dodgers.

“There's a postseason every year. There's big spots every year. Most times, guys don't come through and can't control or temper their emotions,” Dodgers manager Dave Roberts said. “But David, his track record speaks for itself, and his ability to temper those emotions and take an at-bat, to go the other way, to hit a homer to right-center field -- he has that ability. So yeah, he's certainly downplaying his ability in high-leverage [situations] on this stage.”

2011 NLCS, Game 6

Freese began his playoff legend with this series against the Brewers in 2011, winning NLCS Most Valuable Player Award honors with a .545/.600/1.001 slash line. Arguably his most impactful hit was in the first inning of Game 6, when Milwaukee’s fateful decision to start struggling Shawn Marcum produced a 4-0 Cardinals lead before Prince Fielder & Co. got to swing the bats. Freese delivered the big blow with a three-run home run, sending St. Louis to a victory that clinched a spot in the World Series.

“You get hot every now and then," Freese said of that series. "The timing was unbelievable.”