Freese shocking the world, but not the Cardinals
MILWAUKEE -- The storylines were the unpredictability, how a Cardinals team that was 10 1/2 games out of the Wild Card with 31 to play made it to the World Series. And do it in a wild, crazy six-game series against the Brewers, in which the St. Louis relievers got more outs (88) than the starters (73), who never got an out in a sixth inning and totaled just 24 1/3 innings in six games.
Add to that the unpredictability of 28-year-old David Freese winning the National League Championship Series MVP in a lineup with Albert Pujols, Matt Holliday and Lance Berkman. But to his Cardinals teammates, Freese was not something totally unpredictable, one of those Brian Doyle/Rick Dempsey October moments.
"It's just been a matter of his staying healthy," said Pujols. "He's had bad luck, but he has tremendous ability."
At the beginning of the series, Ryan Theriot predicted this would be the series that brought Freese into the national consciousness.
"He is really strong," Theriot said. "He's got tremendous power, and because his power is to center and right-center, he can extend and hit the ball a long way. It carries. Just watch." Freese is a guy -- remember, 28-year-old guy -- who, in parts of three Major League seasons had 15 home runs, 10 this season. He's a guy who, like Nelson Cruz, was batting seventh in a very good lineup. And when Game 6 ended Sunday night, he'd had a series in which he batted .545 with three homers and nine RBIs, giving him the postseason lead with 14 RBIs.
One other player has had .500/3/9 numbers in a postseason series. Lou Gehrig hit .545 with four homers and nine RBIs in the 1928 World Series.
Freese's story is compelling. He quit baseball at Lafayette High School in suburban Wildwood, Mo. His coach tried to talk him back into playing by having him work out and talk with his former teammate and friend Ryan Howard.
"The negativity of the game kind of confused me," Freese says.
But he came back to play in junior college, then at South Alabama. At the age of 23 he was drafted by the San Diego Padres in the ninth round in 2006 and, after hitting .302 with 17 homers and an .889 OPS in A ball in 2007, was shipped to the Cardinals in December 2007 for Jim Edmonds.
"This was great scouting," says Tony La Russa. "We could see right away in Spring Training , that David had legitimate ability. But he had some bad breaks."
In 2008, Freese played at Triple-A for the Cardinals and posted good corner numbers: 26 homers, 91 RBIs, .910 OPS. But in 2009, he suffered ankle injuries, limiting him to 17 Major League games. In 2010, he had more physical problems and played only 70 games, hitting four homers. Even this season, he was hit by a pitch, broke his hand and played only 97 games, hitting 10 homers and posting a .791 OPS.
"It was just a matter of playing time, at-bats and experience," says hitting coach Mark McGwire. "When you have a swing like his, where he naturally can stay back and drive the ball with such power to right-center, you have a chance to be a very good hitter. He does that. It just takes time to learn."
Freese says he learned his hitting style as a teenager. "I was pretty small, so I was a second baseman," Freese recalls. "My father would tell me to work on hitting line drives to right field. So that's what I did. That's how I developed my swing. I don't think anyone envisioned I'd get so much bigger and be able to drive the ball."
He homered off Roy Oswalt in the Division Series against Philadelphia. Then, in Game 1 in Milwaukee, he crushed a bomb to right-center.
"No one thought that was going out, which tells you how strong he is," says La Russa.
Then in the clincher, he pulled a three-run homer in the first inning off Shaun Marcum that began the revolving bullpen brigade.
Before Sunday's game, two Cardinals teammates said that, barring the unforeseen, Freese had to be the series MVP. And that was before the home run, double and single and the long night for the Brewers pitchers.
"This was the series where David Freese emerged as a star-level player," said La Russa. "It may surprise some people who haven't seen him play a lot, but it's no surprise to us."
"No surprise at all," said Pujols. "He is a special player."
So special that he's now in the same sentence as Lou Gehrig.
Peter Gammons is a columnist for MLB.com and an analyst for MLB Network. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.