Commentary

Heard of David Freese now?

Oft-injured Cardinals third baseman breaks out to become October's hottest hitter

Updated: October 17, 2011, 5:31 PM ET
By Amy K. Nelson | ESPN.com

MILWAUKEE -- It wasn't very long ago that David Freese had quit baseball, having decided that his heart just wasn't into it. He was in school, studying computer science and trying to be a normal college student. But one day he called his mother, Lynn, and told her he had changed his mind.

"I don't want to work a desk job for the rest of my life," the St. Louis native told his mom.

For the Cardinals that's a good thing, because on Sunday night Freese stood in the middle of the St. Louis Cardinals' clubhouse drenched in champagne and beer after being named the most valuable player of the National League Championship Series. His hometown Cardinals are heading to the World Series after a 12-6 win over the Brewers in Game 6. And Freese is a major reason for that.

"I've had a good week," he said. "Not too many people get a chance to do this in their hometown. It's an unbelievable feeling."

Freese, 28, hit .545 in the series, with three home runs -- including a big three-run shot in the first inning of Game 6 -- with nine RBIs. His slugging percentage was an astounding 1.091 for the six-game series, and in the process he did it all on a national stage, and he did it better than Albert Pujols, Matt Holliday and Lance Berkman.

[+] EnlargeDavid Freese
Scott Boehm/Getty ImagesDavid Freese's power stroke has produced a postseason-leading 14 RBIs.

"When you watch Albert, Lance and Matt, that's how they do it, you've got to go one pitch at a time," he said. "They don't throw ABs away. I'm learning every AB is so crucial, especially in this kind of situation."

His parents, Lynn and Guy, live just outside St. Louis, and were sitting in the stands when he hit the three-run homer in the first inning. They were happy, tearful and in awe of what their son has been able to do.

"Pinch me," Lynn Freese said, while standing in the clubhouse with her family. "David being a hometown boy, nobody's ever given up on him -- he's the comeback kid."

Indeed he is. Even though he was a highly regarded shortstop in Missouri coming out of Lafayette High, he chose to not play college baseball at Mizzou. He wanted to get away from the game.

"Maybe I was going down the wrong path, I don't know, but the negativity of the game kind of consumed me," Freese told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch last week. "I just wanted to do other things, and baseball wasn't one of them. I had been living baseball for 15 years and I was burnt out. I lost the drive."

But he soon regained it, and it took stops at a community college and then South Alabama before he was drafted in the ninth round in 2006 by the Padres. He was traded for Jim Edmonds in 2007, but various injuries, especially to his ankle, hampered his development.

This year he played a career-high 97 games, and teammates think that because he's never had a full season in the big leagues, he's been able to go under the radar, not known nationally by many people.

"They [know him] now," said veteran catcher Gerald Laird. "That guy has been huge. Every time we needed a big hit, he got it. We knew who he was; the people in St. Louis knew who he was. The players in the National League knew who he was, and now he's known nationally as a kid who can be very special, and the sky's the limit for him."

Not only does Freese lead all big-leaguers with 14 RBIs this postseason -- which also tied a team record in the postseason, and that's before he plays in the World Series -- but he bested Texas Rangers outfielder and ALCS MVP Nelson Cruz by one. Laird has played with both players, and said they remind him a lot of each other.

"They both have power to all fields, they're both special players and they both stepped up in the big moment," Laird said. "They got in big situations and they made big things happen."

With his three homers, .545 average and nine RBIs, Freese is only the second player to hit those benchmarks in the postseason. In 1928, Lou Gehrig hit .545 with four home runs and nine RBIs against the Cardinals in the World Series.

Just how crazy is Freese's rise? He has never played more than 97 games in any of the three seasons he's been here, and the longest hitting streak of his brief career was nine games, in 2010. This postseason, he's already bested that, hitting in his 10th straight game. That ties the club's postseason record, held by Scott Rolen in 2006 -- the last time the team won the World Series.

"There's a lot of guys who have talent, but to be successful in this league, you have to be tough," said his manager, Tony La Russa. "You have to have good character. He's a very tough individual. He's had bad breaks with his ankle and his hand. This guy has got great insides, and it matches his talents. This guy is going to be a star. If he can stay healthy, he's going to be a star, year-in, year-out. A clutch star."

His dad, Guy, was asked how he was able to be so successful after all his setbacks and yet perform better than the superstars on his team in his first postseason series.

"It's his steady approach to life," Guy Freese said, his eyes tearing. "He doesn't get too high, doesn't get too low. Baseball is a tough game, and sometimes you're going to strike out and sometimes you're going to get a hit. With all the challenges he's had in his career, we've stuck by him, and I'm happy for him. He could have quit a long time ago."

Before the series against the Brewers started, one pitcher was talking about the Cardinals' lineup. He said everyone knows about Pujols, Holliday and Berkman. But he said it was the guys like Freese and Allen Craig who were the ones to watch out for, that they are a lot better than people give them credit for. Until Sunday night, that may have been the case. But now the hometown kid has an MVP trophy to his credit, and David Freese is no longer a no-name player. In a few days, the Texas Rangers will get to find that out firsthand.

Amy K. Nelson is a staff writer for ESPN.com. She can be reached at Amy.K.Nelson@espn.com.