Behind Freeland, Rox win rare 1-0 opener

Only one run scores for the 12th time in a Rockies home game

April 7th, 2023

DENVER -- finished his day with a tip of the cap to his hometown fans at Coors Field. But he made such quick work of the Nationals in the Rockies’ 1-0 home-opener victory, it’s not clear how much of the game many of them actually saw.

As is the case with many big crowds -- the 48,230 on Thursday afternoon was a sellout -- it took a bit for a large number of folks to find their seats. Meanwhile, Freeland, who scouted the Nationals as a “swinging team,” zipped through his 6 2/3 innings with four hits and five strikeouts.

With the Nats’ Josiah Gray going six innings and holding the Rockies to 's fifth-inning RBI single, the game sped by in 2 hours, 18 minutes.

But fans who were in their seats for even part of Freeland’s performance appreciated every pitch. And Freeland, who has thrown 12 2/3 scoreless innings in his two starts this season and improved to 2-1 with a 3.03 ERA in his three home openers, appreciated the warmth on a sunny but brisk 51-degree day.

“I wanted to let the state of Colorado know that I love them and appreciate the support,” Freeland said. “It’s great seeing everyone out there, supporting us, behind us with everything.”

Freeland -- with Gray also playing a part -- gave Colorado something rarely seen in its now 31 seasons of Major League Baseball. It was just the 12th 1-0 game played in Denver, and the 11th at Coors. Freeland was born during the Rockies’ inaugural season and wore the team’s onesie. He has started home openers in 2017 (his debut, a win over the Dodgers), last year and Thursday. 

He can appreciate the rarity of a single-run game in Denver.

“I don’t,” Freeland said when asked if he recalled seeing a 1-0 game during his youth, which included standout work at Thomas Jefferson High School before attending the University of Evansville. “It was a great-pitched game on both sides, both myself and Josiah. Both myself and him were dialed in.”

Freeland found his form despite abbreviated preparation.

Representing Team USA during the World Baseball Classic, Freeland appeared twice in relief. It meant fewer innings to prepare for the regular season, so he entered the season on a pitch count. But he went six innings in just 74 pitches in a 4-1 victory at San Diego last Friday.

On Thursday, his calculation that he could have the Nats swinging quickly helped him nearly complete seven in 86 pitches, and not let a runner reach second base. 

“Some really good pitches inside choked off some swings,” Rockies manager Bud Black said. “The curveball came as the game went on. I really liked the fact that a little deeper in the game, he fell behind in some counts and came back.”

While the fans know Freeland well, they received a nice introduction to , signed to a one-year contract before the season started to hit leadoff and -- it turned out -- have a defensive impact in left field.

In the first inning, Profar leaped -- and withstood having his glove tipped by that of a young fan who reached over the wall -- to grab Jeimer Candelario’s fly ball just shy of the fence. In the second, Profar added a diving catch on a Luis García liner -- “going Superman on it,” Freeland said. In the fifth, Profar made a running grab of a Victor Robles drive.

Freeland was at 80 pitches through six innings and kept the efficiency for two seventh-inning outs before García whizzed a single past him. navigated 1 1/3 innings, and Denver native finished the hometown celebration with his second save of the season.

“What a great story, right?” Johnson said. “Colorado guy gets to start a game and Colorado guy finishes it off -- pretty cool for the Opening Day here.”

Wild, long and high-scoring games have been the Denver tradition. But maybe Freeland can help usher in a new era.

“You’re going to see games like today, well pitched, very few walks, it’s going to move,” Black said. “And if you’re out on Blake Street, out on Wazee, having one more, you’re gonna miss a couple innings.”