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Freese Ascends From Goat to Hero

There was a moment, as the Cardinals and Rangers somehow dragged themselves through the middle innings of Game Six, when David Freese was the goat for the Cardinals. Freese was 0-for-2 through the first five innings, but it wasn’t like he stranded the bases loaded or struck out looking twice. It wasn’t the bat. It was this one moment here that induced cringes (and laughs) nationwide, captured by SB Nation’s Jeff Sullivan:

When it comes to pitching, the pop-up is the next best thing to a strikeout. Batters reach on pop-ups around two percent of the time. There it was, already inside Freese’s glove. And then, there it was again, on the ground, as one of the Cardinals’ biggest postseason heroes committed one of the most egregious errors a Major League baseball player can ever commit, whether it’s Game Six of the World Series or a 6-0 sixth inning in the 66th game of the season. Of course, the error would be punished, as a mere two pitches later Michael Young drilled a double to the left field gap which plated Hamilton, the go-ahead run.

The stage was set, should the Rangers just hold on, for Freese’s mistake to be the one that ended the Cardinals’ season. But, as Jonah Keri reminded us in his fantastic recap for Grantland, without the constraint of a clock, as long as there remains an out to be made, any scenario is possible.

Like going from the goat who blew the Little League play to putting together one of the greatest games in World Series history.

Freese’s 2-for-5, three RBI game obviously faces some stiff competition, given the storied history and full pantheon constructed from 108 years of World Series play. We’ve seen three-homer games, we’ve seen five-RBI games, and we’ve seen shutouts. But as far as the magnitude of the situations, there has never — not in more than a century — been a player who produced more in a higher magnitude situation than David Freese.

We all watched the game. There’s no need to set up the situation here. We all saw David Freese tie the game on the would-be final strike in the ninth inning, and we all saw David Freese take Mark Lowe deep to end it in the 11th.

There’s Kirk Gibson‘s legendary walk-off shot in 1988, which even when divorced from Gibson’s injury was the single-highest WPA hit and game in a World Series (or a postseason game). There’s Bill Mazeroski‘s walk-off home run in Game Seven of the 1960 World Series, which speaks for itself. There’s Charlie Keller and Stan Hack, who had monumental games during the 1940s, and Cookie Lavagetto, who merely hit a pinch-hit walk-off double in 1947 as opposed to Gibson’s home run 41 years later.

But in terms of the sheer magnitude of the hits — both in terms of Win Probability Added and in my own personal opinion as one who watched the game — none of these moments or games approach what Freese did Thursday night. Freese’s .953 WPA blows away Gibson’s previous record of +0.870. In purely subjective terms, the game tying triple and the walk-off home run are moments that create an incredible series for an individual, forget a game. Forget a mere two at-bats in the final three innings of an elimination game.

If there’s anything we should learn from watching baseball, it’s that anything can happen between the first out and the 27th out (or the 33rd, as was the case Thursday night). Freese could have easily been defined by the dropped fly ball in the fifth inning, but with his fantastic performance late in the game — and, let’s not forget, some help from his teammates and the Rangers to set up the perfect situations for glory — his Game Six can now go down as perhaps the greatest in World Series history.