ST. LOUIS -- John Mozeliak's first major move as Cardinals general manager has turned out pretty well. Better than that, really.
In December 2007, barely six weeks after he had been elevated to replace the wildly successful Walt Jocketty as St. Louis' head man, Mozeliak jettisoned popular veteran outfielder Jim Edmonds to San Diego. The deal freed up some salary space, cleared room for younger players to play ... and brought in an interesting but not highly touted prospect named David Freese.
Perceived in some circles as a throw-in, Freese was a player the Cardinals wanted. He wasn't just a body to fill out the other half of a deal. But even on their most optimistic days, no one in the Cardinals' front office could have foreseen the month that Freese had in October 2011.
Neither could Freese, for that matter. He's more than just a ballplayer in his hometown; he's a full-on celebrity.
"If getting recognized comes with winning a championship, I can definitely live with that," Freese said.
Freese has emerged as the Cardinals' primary third baseman, but that's only part of the story. In October, Freese channeled Edmonds in the best way possible: reprising his role as the man who delivered the Cardinals' biggest postseason moments.
In Game 6 of a historic 2011 World Series, Freese collected arguably the biggest hit in the history of the franchise: an 11th-inning walk-off home run that forced a seventh game at Busch Stadium and put the Cardinals in position to win their 11th world title.
Freese went, in the space of a month, from valued contributor to absolute rock star in St. Louis. He won Most Valuable Player honors in both the National League Championship Series and the World Series. In the wake of that amazing run, he made the talk-show circuit and served as the face of promotions for the official World Series DVD.
Following Albert Pujols' departure, the 28-year-old St. Louis-area native is likely his hometown team's most visible player. He's also one of its most important, a solid defender and dangerous hitter who has stabilized a position that has seen a ton of turnover since Scott Rolen was traded in January 2008.
And the hope is that there's more to come.
"It's not as if David Freese is content with what has happened and now he's just going to cash in his chips," said new Cardinals manager Mike Matheny. "He's very motivated. He's been in the gym consistently. He looks great. And he was on a whirlwind tour there for a while, but you know what, those things don't happen very often, and for him to jump out there and enjoy that is not a bad thing. But I think he's rerouted his attention, and he's excited about 2012."
When Freese was acquired from the Padres, he was old for his league, coming off spending his age-24 season at high Class A. The Cardinals sent him straight to Triple-A, a leap he handled with aplomb. Still, even then he was not one of the organization's most touted prospects.
He made the team out of Spring Training in 2009, but missed much of the year due to injury. The 2010 campaign wasn't much better, with Freese earning the starting third-base job but once again getting hurt. When a broken bone in his hand sidetracked Freese's 2011 season, it seemed he might just be snake-bit.
So much for that thought. Freese came back strong, racking up 37 RBIs in 59 second-half games. Still, his final line was a solid but not stunning .297 batting average, .350 on-base percentage and .441 slugging percentage.
Then October happened. Freese was 5-for-18 with a home run in the Division Series. He went a ridiculous 12-for-22 in the Cardinals' six-game dispatching of the Brewers for the National League pennant and was 8-for-23 with five extra-base hits and seven RBIs in the World Series.
It wasn't about the raw numbers, though. It was the timing that made him a hero. Freese's Game 6 homer will live forever in Cardinals lore, but his two-run double in Game 7 was critical as well. That hit tied the game after Texas had taken a quick lead, setting the Redbirds on their way to victory.
It may be the springboard to a great career. It may just be a great month. For now, that doesn't matter. Even if Freese never takes another big league at-bat, he's an October hero for the rest of his life.
"It's a small sample size," Mozeliak admitted, "but one that he had great impact on."
Matthew Leach is a reporter for MLB.com. Read his blog, Obviously, You're Not a Golfer, and follow him on Twitter @MatthewHLeach. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.