10/29/11 2:20 AM EST
Freese caps stellar playoffs with Series MVP
Cards slugger also wins NLCS MVP, sets postseason RBI mark
By Anthony DiComo / MLB.com
And yet if anyone is representative of the Cardinals' charming, unpredictable championship run, which culminated in Friday's 6-2 World Series Game 7 victory over the Rangers, it is Freese. The local boy. The underdog. The World Series Most Valuable Player.
Freese became eternal owner of that title late Friday night, near a makeshift stage assembled across the lip of Busch Stadium's outfield grass. There, Major League Baseball Commissioner Bud Selig gave the MVP Award presented by Chevrolet to a man who once quit the game for lack of desire, who later seemed doubtful to fulfill his potential and who entered this season, days shy of his 28th birthday, with five career home runs.
Then Freese hit five this October alone.
"He just proved to the country and the world what you can do in a pressure situation," Cardinals hitting coach Mark McGwire said.
Freese also hit upon the core of baseball in St. Louis, a city that once showered similar adoration upon Stan Musial and Bob Gibson and his own teammate, Albert Pujols. By the fifth inning of Game 7, with runners on second and third and two outs, the Rangers had seen enough. They walked him. The fallout was two-run rally that sealed the game for the Cards.
Freese's greater Game 7 contribution had come four innings earlier, when he doubled home Pujols and Lance Berkman with two outs in the first. That is the sort of player he has become over the past month, stamping his face and his story across the consciousness of Missouri, then projecting it throughout an increasingly interested nation.
By the time Freese sealed his MVP Award on Friday night, millions were watching. What's more, millions knew who he was.
"I'm trying to soak all this in," Freese said. "It's going to take me a little bit, I think, to realize what we've accomplished."
The story of what the Cardinals accomplished is one of baseball's quintessential tales -- that of a forgotten team winning against all odds. The story of what Freese accomplished is similar.
Hot corner MVPs
By now, his saga is well-known throughout his home state. Burned out on baseball, Freese quit the sport in high school, spurning a scholarship to the University of Missouri. Eventually changing his mind and taking the long road back to the game, Freese battled injuries and disappointments throughout the initial stages of his professional career.
Then came this season, a breakout campaign that saw him hit .297 with 10 home runs in 97 games, working his way into manager Tony La Russa's regular infield rotation. Freese's study sessions with teammate Matt Holliday, whom he considers "a brother," helped steel him against Major League pitching. His innate abilities did the rest.
"It's been fun to watch," Holliday said. "He's just gotten a lot better."
If Freese represents a microcosm of the Cardinals, his at-bat in the first inning Friday represents a microcosm of his season. Facing Rangers starter Matt Harrison, Freese lined an inside fastball to left-center field to the joy of his hitting coach, who has worked with Freese all season on pulling inside pitches to the gap.
In the dugout, McGwire turned to assistant Mike Aldrete and said simply, "Hard work pays off, man."
Freese also claims he did it all on about 45 minutes sleep, unable to rest because he was "so fired up" to play.
"He knows how to hit," McGwire said. "He's got ice in his veins, and I truly believe that's God-given. It's hard to tell somebody how to relax when they're in a pressure situation. I believe you either have it or you don't, and he's one that has it."
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The numbers back that up. In sum this World Series, the third baseman hit .348, with five of his eight hits going for extra bases. For good measure, he added a slick catch on Josh Hamilton's foul pop in Game 7.
Tack those feats onto his postseason totals and Freese finished with a .397 average, five home runs and a Major League-record 21 RBIs in 18 games.
Many of them were big hits, important hits, especially at the end. Freese's double in Game 7 tied things after the Rangers had taken a quick lead. His 11th-inning, walk-off home run in Game 6 capped one of the most improbable comebacks in World Series history, after his ninth-inning, two-run triple gave the Cardinals a chance.
In winning MVP honors for those precise reasons, Freese became the sixth player in history to earn a League Championship Series and World Series MVP award in the same postseason, and the second to do so in the last four years. Freese also became the first position player to win both awards since fellow Cardinal Darrell Porter in 1982, joining Porter, Gibson and David Eckstein as the only St. Louis players to be named World Series MVP since the award's inception in 1955.
His prize was a black Corvette, which Freese admired late Friday night from its perch on Busch Stadium's infield dirt. After soaking in applause and cheers from the thousands who stuck around for a postgame ceremony, Freese received a standing ovation as he entered a tunnel leading back toward the clubhouse, pointing an index finger to the sky as he disappeared.
He freely admits that he may not understand the full scope of his accomplishments until he has a chance to reflect. That will come in time, with bliss, now that his story has its ending.
"I've had plenty of days in my life where I thought I wouldn't even be close to being a big leaguer," Freese said. "I'm here because of everybody around me. They've put so much trust in me to accomplish not only baseball, but just stuff in life. And to do this, I'm just full of joy. Finally."