3B David Freese
Third baseman David Freese, originally a member of the San Diego Padres organization, kicked off his tenure in St. Louis when in 2007 he was acquired as a prospect in a trade for the aging slugger Jim Edmonds.
He made his major league debut in 2009 but was quickly optioned to the minors after a shaky start. Making a return in September, Freese recorded a hit in each of his six appearances to end the season.
His next two seasons showcased marked success and great potential, albeit a number of injuries forced him to miss significant playing time. Through the 2010-2011 regular seasons, Freese slashed .297/.355/.426 through 633 plate appearances for a commendable .780 OPS.
What inevitably ingrained Freese in the city’s conscience and history, however, was not his regular season play, but his incredible and near-unprecedented performance in the 2011 postseason.
Freese was an indispensable member of the Cardinals’ run of 2011, and was instrumental to their success, consistently producing critical hits whenever it was necessary. If someone had to pick the clutchest player in postseason history, Freese might very well be chosen, and there is certainly a case to be made.
In Game 4 of the NLDS against the Phillies, the Cardinals’ backs were against the wall as they faced elimination, being down 2-1 in the series. Just like the series, the Cardinals came into the fourth inning losing by a score of 2-1. There was hope, however, as the first two batters of the inning, Lance Berkman and Matt Holliday, reached base on a walk and hit by pitch respectively. A fly out to right-center field by Yadier Molina advanced Berkman to third, left Holliday at first, and brought David Freese to the plate.
With every out becoming near invaluable for the Cardinals, it was crucial that Freese capitalize on this optimal scoring opportunity. Wasting no time in his at-bat, Freese did just that, drilling a line drive down the left field line to drive in both runners. Coming up to the plate in the sixth, Freese once again came up big with a towering two-run home run to center field to secure the Cardinals the game.
This was but a preview for things to come.
Freese tore up the Milwaukee Brewers’ pitching in the NLCS, putting up a mind-boggling 1.691 OPS during the six-game stretch. He slashed .546/.600/1.091, hitting three home runs, three doubles, and posting nine RBIs; a feat which earned him the prestigious title of NLCS MVP. Remarkably, the best was still yet to come.
On October 27, 2011, the Cardinals hosted Game 6 of the 2011 World Series against the Texas Rangers, arguably the greatest game ever, regardless of sport, in St. Louis history. The game had come down to the wire, and that’s no exaggeration. The Cardinals had fallen behind in the series 3-2 and were coming into the bottom of the ninth with a two-run deficit. Albert Pujols was able to kick off a rally, hitting a clutch, one-out double to bring the tying run to the plate. A four-pitch walk to Lance Berkman brought the winning run to the plate, though a strikeout of Allen Craig simultaneously brought the Cardinals to their final out.
The game, the series, and the entire season was on the line, and it was on the hometown kid David Freese that everything rested. In three pitches, Freese had fallen behind 1-2 in the count, and the Cardinals were one strike away from elimination. In the midst of near-certain defeat, Freese defiantly stepped into the batter’s box, swung, and delivered.
The ball was sent hurtling toward the outfield wall, forcing Rangers right fielder Nelson Cruz to make a mad dash to the warning track. This was to no avail, and the ball ricocheted off the wall. Pujols and Berkman ran across home plate, and Freese dove head-first into third. The game was tied, the crowd was deafening, and for the moment, the season was saved.
Thanks to some 10th-inning heroics by Lance Berkman, Freese led off the bottom of the 11th with the score tied nine apiece. Freese, who had already produced more than anyone could possibly ask for, was ready to deliver one more incredible moment. Faced with a 3-2 count, Freese took pitcher Mark Lowe deep in dramatic fashion for what possibly became the most iconic home run in Cardinals history. As everyone who follows the team knows, the Cardinals went on to take Game 7 for their 11th World Series Championship.
Unbridled from any major injuries, Freese showcased his best season performance in 2012, earning himself a place in what would be his first and only All-Star Game. It was in 2012 that he posted his career high in home runs and RBIs, 20 and 79 respectively.
Despite putting up solid numbers in the year prior, 2013 would be Freese’s last season with the Cardinals, with injuries once again coming back to plague him. A back injury suffered in spring training caused a significant downturn in Freese’s production at the plate, and by mid-August, he was starting to share more time with Matt Carpenter at third. This was part of a plan to get then-prospect Kolten Wong time to play at second base, which had primarily been Carpenter’s position beforehand.
2013 saw the Cardinals once again make it to the World Series, though this time they would fall short in a 6-game series against the Boston Red Sox. Unlike his performance in 2011, Freese’s struggles in the 2013 postseason were pronounced, with him slashing a pathetic .179/.258/.268 through 17 games. After five years in St. Louis, Freese’s tenure wearing the birds on the bat was over, but by no means was his career close to being finished.
In a deal with the Los Angeles Angels, Freese was packaged with relief pitcher Fernando Salas in exchange for center fielder Peter Bourjo and prospect Randal Grichuk. Here Freese was able to make reacquaintance with a certain Albert Pujols, who had signed a notorious 10-year deal with the team around two years prior.
Statistically, Freese didn’t fare too much better on the Angels in 2014 than he did in 2013 with the Cardinals, putting up a career-low, but not egregious .704 OPS through 134 games. Although Freese had made strides in returning to past form in 2015, the Angels were ready to move on and didn’t re-sign him for the following year.
Instead, Freese would be making his way to the east coast where he signed a one-year, $3 million contract with the Pittsburgh Pirates. In his two-and-a-half seasons with the Bucs, Freese stood as one of the top contributors to the team, putting up a .752 OPS over the 2016-2017 campaigns.
Following his strong start to the 2018 season, Freese was traded once again, this time to the Los Angeles Dodgers in exchange for minor league infielder Jesus Manuel Valdez. Freese didn’t skip a beat in his new uniform and proceeded to play an incredible stretch in September to finish the year. In this 19-game stretch, Freese slashed a remarkable .385/.489/.641 for a titanic 1.130 OPS.
What was even more remarkable was that his hot streak carried deep into the Dodgers’ playoff run. Though the Dodgers wound wind up losing the World Series to the Boston Red Sox, Freese was a major contributor in October, most notably hitting a leadoff home run in Game 6 of the NLCS, alongside Game 5 of the World Series. He finished the postseason slashing .364/.423/.773, a performance highly reminiscent of his magical run of 2011.
Following the end of the 2018 campaign, Freese signed a one-year, $4.5 million contract to return to the Dodgers in what would be his last season in the major leagues. He saw limited playing time, only making 186 plate appearances, but was able to finish his career incredibly strong. Slashing .315/.403/.599 to end the season, Freese wrapped up an incredible, 11-year career with an unshakable legacy, highlighted by postseason moments that were and continue to be unmatched.