Freeland Makes a Statement; He's Up for the Challenge of Being No. 1

Kyle Freeland started and had a no-decision in the Rockies 2-1, 13-inning Wild-Card game against the Cubs at Wrigley Field on Tuesday night.

But Freeland, like the Rockies, came out a winner.

On a national stage, he provided a “what do you think of me now” moment for the national media.

Now, it’s not going to impact this year’s Cy Young Award voting. Those ballots had to be finalized prior to the first pitch of the first post-season game of October.

Down the road, however, the silly arguments over his credibility as a Cy Young candidate can be thrown in the trash can. Given the national stage to make a statement, he made himself heard loud and clear.

Joining Tyler Chatwood as the only starting pitchers in the history of the Rockies franchise to start on short rest after a previous start, Freeland departed with a 1-0 lead after 6 2/3 impressive innings in which he allowed four hits, walked one batter and struck out six.

Long on Results, Short on Rest

Player Date Score Dec IP H R ER BB SO
Tyler Chatwood Aug. 10, 2012 Col 3, SF 0 Win 5 3 0 0 2 2 71 pitches
Aug. 14, 2012 Col 8, Mil 6 Win 6 4 2 1 0 3 77 pitches
Aug. 18, 2012 Miami 6, Col 5 Loss 4 9 6 6 1 3
Kyle Freeland Sept. 28, 2018 Col 5, Wash 2 Win 6 11 2 2 1 4 96 pitches
Tuesday Col 2, Cubs 1 (13) ND 6 2/3 4 0 0 1 6

And while it was just four days earlier that he had somehow weaved through a 11-hit, six-inning effort to allowed just two runs in a victory against the Nationals, the average velocity of his fastball was 93.3 miles per hour, compared to 91.6 mph during the regular season, and he threw strikes with 73.1 percent of his pitches, compared to 65.7 percent in the regular season.

Get the picture?

In 6 2/3 innings, only once did he face the challenge of a runner in scoring position, and it wasn’t all his fault, but he handled it with ease. After Ian Happ walked to open the sixth, and Ben Zobrist struck out, Kris Bryant was credited with a single on a fly ball to right field that seemed to be caught by a breeze, turning what should have been an easy out into a base hit.

Freeland, however, had the answer to that challenge — he got Anthony Rizzo to ground into an inning-ending double play.

Freeland embraced the challenge of a win-or-go-home game, laying the foundation for the Rockies to win, even if his chance for the win disappeared when reliever Adam Ottavino gave up an eighth-inning run.

And the Rockies overcame that one-run misstep, winning the longest post-season elimination game in MLB history.

Working Overtime

Year Winner Loser Length Winning Rally
2018 WC-Rockies 2 Cubs 1 13 innings Tony Wolters RBI single
2014 WC-Royals 9 A's 8 11.2 innings 2-run 12th; Hosmer HR; Perez RBI single
2015 WC-Nationals 4 Giants 3 11.1 innings Earl McNeely RBI double

What a special moment for the Colorado native, born five weeks after the first game in Rockies history at a hospital just down the road from Mile High Stadium, the first home park of the franchise.

He was excited in 2007, when as a freshman at Thomas Jefferson High School, the 14-year-old Freeland watched on television with his father to the Rockies dramatic comeback in the Game 163, when Matt Holliday slid head-first into home plate on a Jamey Carroll line drive, sacrifice fly to right field and capped a three-run bottom of the 13th for a 9-8 victory against the Padres.

“I remember 2007 like it was yesterday,” he said. “Being on my couch, watching Holliday slide into home plate.”

He’s not going to forget being in the visiting dugout at Wrigley Field, watching Tony Wolters, a .170 hitter in the regular season who had finished the season hitless in his 15 at-bats, dating back to a Sept. 10 base hit, slip that game-winning single into center field in the top of the 13. And then came Scott Oberg, striking out all three Cubs in the bottom of the 13th inning to pick up a save in the longest elimination game in post-season history.

It was a win-or-go-home moment, and when it was over, the Rockies were heading not back to Denver, but instead to Milwaukee, where they open the best-of-five NL Division Series on Thursday night.

It is their first trip past the wild-card game since they lost the NL Division Series to Philadelphia in 2009, and it has been a winding road, which includes the fact that on Thursday night they will be playing their fourth game in their fourth city in the last five days.

Not that anybody is complaining.

Season ERA
Player Season ERA
Kyle Freeland 2018 2.85
Ubaldo Jimenez 2010 2.88
Jhoulys Chacin 2013 3.47
Ubaldo Jimenez 2009 3.47
Jorge De La Rosa 2013 3.49
Jhoulys Chacin 2011 3.62
Joe Kennedy 2004 3.66
German Marquez 2018 3.77
Jason Jennings 2006 3.78
Aaron Cook 2008 3.96
Coors Field ERA
Player Season ERA
Kyle Freeland 2018 2.4
Jorge De La Rosa 2013 2.76
Jorge De La Rosa 2014 3.08
Ubaldo Jimenez 2010 3.19
Denny Stark 2002 3.21
Ubaldo Jimenez 2008 3.31
Ubaldo Jimenez 2009 3.34
Jason Jennings 2006 3.56
Jhoulys Chacin 2011 3.57
Joe Kennedy 2004 3.59

Sure life would have been easier had they won one more regular-season game, and claimed the NL West title, or even if they had won Game 163 against the Dodgers in Los Angeles on Monday afternoon.

But all that is history now, and the Rockies are very much alive in the NL West, and the emotions of the moment works wonders in supplying the energy that might otherwise be zapped by the travel demands of this week.

As manager Bud Black put it, “These guys come to play every day and they are resilient. They prepare as well as any team I‘ve been around. They go about it the right way. I’m so proud of them.”

And nobody gives the Rockies and their fan base more to be proud of than the local-boy-made-good, Freeland. In his second big-league season, he went 17-7, equaling the franchise record for wins by a lefthander. He set franchise records with an ERA of 2.85 for the season and 2.40 at Coors Field.

He doesn’t have the sympathy vote of a Jacob deGrom of the Mets, who despite a 1.70 ERA had only a 10-9 record, or the wow-factor of a Max Scherzer, who as well as a 2.53 ERA struck out 300 batters.

Freeland, however, did dominate hitters in a ballpark where pitchers, over the years, have looked for ways to avoid having to pitch.

But then, he probably doesn’t know any better.

He grew up in Denver, learning how to pitch in Denver, and being successful enough in his amateur days to wind up being a first-round draft choice of his hometown team.

Now, he has emerged as the ace for that team, in only his second big-league season. He put his stamp on this post-season by laying the foundation for that Wild-Card victory that allowed the Rockies to advance to the NL Division Series.

Tracy RingolsbyComment