LOS ANGELES -- Rockies left-hander Kyle Freeland will arrive at Wrigley Field for tonight's National League Wild Card Game wearing his and his team's aspirations on his sleeve -- well, the tattoo sleeve on his right arm.The ink reads "303" (Denver's original area code) and "5280" -- representing the feet
LOS ANGELES -- Rockies left-hander Kyle Freeland will arrive at Wrigley Field for tonight's National League Wild Card Game wearing his and his team's aspirations on his sleeve -- well, the tattoo sleeve on his right arm.
The ink reads "303" (Denver's original area code) and "5280" -- representing the feet above sea level that makes Denver the Mile High City. The coup de grace is the lyric from the rapper Machine Gun Kelly, who spent his formative years at the same Thomas Jefferson High School in Denver from which Freeland would graduate: "My city told me they needed me, so I'm grinding for that."
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There's also a clock. The hands are conspicuously missing, and Freeland won't say how he plans to fill the space, but he and the Rockies have repeatedly risen when the time has come to bounce back.
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Monday's 5-2 loss to the Dodgers plunged the Rockies into a now-or-never game. But the Rockies have showed a tendency to rebound, as they did when they were eight games off the NL West pace on June 28, after the nine shutouts they suffered (one fewer than their own shutouts) and following the eight walk-off losses (the same number as their wins).
What better person to turn it over to than Freeland (17-7, 2.85 ERA), who is 11-1 with a 2.32 ERA while the team has won 16 of his last 20 starts. He is a key reason why his hometown team is in the postseason for a second consecutive year for the first time in its history, and he admits carrying extra incentive to put the Rockies in the NL Division Series presented by Doosan, which starts on Thursday in Milwaukee. That would mean postseason play in Coors Field -- The 303 or The 5280, if you will -- for the first time since the Phillies pushed the Rockies out of the NLDS on Oct. 12, 2009.
The Rox would rather have won on Monday and held Freeland for a Division Series opener at home on Thursday. Instead he will be asked to make the DS possible, with righty Antonio Senzatela most likely getting things started.
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"I know it's a rare opportunity," said Freeland, the Rockies' top pick in 2014 out of the University of Evansville, who will make his postseason debut against Cubs lefty Jonathan Lester (18-6, 3.32 ERA), a postseason veteran. "Some guys get to do it later in their career, go home. But it's something I take a lot of pride in, and I'm not taking it for granted, one bit."
Freeland has faced the Cubs once in each of his two seasons, going 0-2 with a 4.15 ERA. As for matchups, he hasn't given up a homer to the North Siders, but Kristopher Bryant is 2-for-5 with a triple against him, and Albert Almora Jr. is 2-for-6.
Freeland is the man to turn to for a club that has a tendency to make things rough on itself. Monday was an example.
After being held to one hit by Dodgers starter Walker Buehler for 6 2/3 innings and not managing anything through eight, third baseman Nolan Arenado led off the ninth with his NL-leading 38th homer and Trevor Story followed with his 37th. Both came off vaunted closer Kenley Jansen. They didn't complete the comeback, but it exemplified the traits that have allowed the team to stay on the cliff when pushed.
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"I feel like our road is never easy -- the Rockies always have a tough road," Arenado said, chuckling slightly. "But we're more than prepared.
"[Freeland] gives us a little extra confidence. We know he's going to be on his game, and we know he's going to compete with everything he has, like all these guys."
In last year's Wild Card Game, the Rockies fell behind the D-backs, 6-0, befpre battling back for a one-run deficit but -- partly because of an out-of-blue two-run triple by reliever Archie Bradley -- took an 11-8 loss.
The Rockies head into Tuesday night's game with no injuries to key players. Freeland is throwing on three days' rest for the first time since college, but the bullpen is rested. And although the memory of last year's defeat is there, that loss wasn't crushing -- nor were some big regular-season losses.
"Having been there last year is really going to help us," said leadoff man Charlie Blackmon, who is 4-for-9 with two doubles against Lester. "We know it's going to be a good atmosphere. We're going out there with the mindset of [having] to win. To be honest, losing last year, that's the worst that can happen. I've been there. I've experienced that. I'm not worried about that. I'm ready to go."
Thomas Harding has covered the Rockies since 2000, and for MLB.com since 2002. Follow him on Twitter @harding_at_mlb, listen to podcasts and like his Facebook page.