It was 24 months ago that David Freese was the bee's knees. the bullfrog’s beard, the clam’s garter, the duck’s nuts, the elephant’s instep … the eel’s ankle, you get it? He was the World Series MVP, and generally unstoppable in the 2011 postseason. He was taking the test with the answer key, and the Cardinals won the World Series.
In the 2013 World Series, Freese looked like Billy Ripken. Today. Billy Ripken playing baseball in 2013. Freese looked like future-Freese in an old-timer's game, both at the plate and in the field.
His stats from the 2011 postseason:
His stats from the 2013 postseason:
Zero runs batted in during the World Series. Seventeen runners left on base in six games. A pair of crucial double plays. An error mixed in for good measure. Freese wasn't the reason the Cardinals lost. He was just one of several players who didn't have an especially good Series.
But he's also useful, now. He sticks out because his successes and failures happened so close together. He's become the shorthand for the postseason being unpredictable.
For years, people would use Mark Lemke as shorthand for playoff randomness. In the 1991 World Series, Lemke went 10 for 24 with three triples. In the 1996 NLCS, he went 12 for 27 with a homer and five driven home. Whenever the playoffs rolled around, a common question would be "Who's going to be this year's Mark Lemke?" It was a winking nod to randomness.
After that, it was David Eckstein. The little scamp played his way into our hearts, and he did it the right way, too. After Eckstein's MVP performance, you could simply say "Who's the Eckstein this October?", and everyone would know what you meant. Though if you're an American League fan, you might be partial to "Who's gonna Podsednik?" after Scott Podsednik, who had exactly zero home runs in 568 regular-season at-bats in 2005 ... and then two homers in the postseason.
Tony Womack knocking in the tying run against Mariano Rivera, Edgar Renteria doing things as a young tyke and an old man, Pat Borders hitting .450, Johnny Podres … you can use any of them as shorthand for the randomness of the playoffs. Except they're giving you just one side of the story. Those players represent the unexpectedly good.
If you wanted a player to represent the unexpectedly bad, you're going to find a lot of disagreement if you use the term "bad luck." Lemke playing out of his head is flukey, and everyone accepts that. Nick Swisher being a hacking, miserable mess in the playoffs is some kind of character flaw, at least if you're an angry fan. There's no bad luck, there. Just a guy who wilts under playoff pressure. I disagree, but the evidence is starting to pile up. So you can't just say, "Nick Swisher" and assume people will understand you're talking about the playoffs being weird. They'll think you're talking about no-good chokers choking no good.
No, there needs to be someone who represents both, who stands for the idea that the playoffs can giveth and taketh and pantseth you on the national stage.
Poor ol' David Freese. Lucky ol' David Freese. He's both. When you say his name, you're still thinking mostly of his demigoddery in 2011, but it's tempered, now. He's also the guy who came up with 17 runners on base and couldn't knock a single one home. Here, I've come up with something called the David Freese Rule. We can refer to it next postseason:
- The hitter you're thinking off will probably have an OPS between .000 and 1.500 this postseason.
Learn it, live it, love it. Even by the arbitrary standards of baseball, the crowning of playoff heroes and lambasting of goats is extraordinarily arbitrary. If Gary Sheffield hits a homer in the ninth inning of the 2002 NLDS, Barry Bonds is still remembered as a a postseason failure. If Dennis Leonard can get three outs, Reggie Jackson isn't called Mr. October.
And David Freese was a hero until he wasn't. You knew that postseason baseball was a fickle mistress. Now you can just mention Freese's name, and everyone will know what you mean, for better or for worse. He's Mr. Postseason.