When the full account of Freddie Freeman’s most awful week of baseball is written, the lamentations may not even begin with all the awkward swings he took against St. Louis in the 2019 National League Division Series.
It was his glove, the one deemed golden just a season ago, that betrayed him when the team he leads needed it most.
Of all the madness that occurred during the St. Louis 10-run first inning Wednesday that decided the decisive Game 5 of the series, right in the middle of it all was a Freeman error on a ground ball that potentially could have shut off the fire-hose torrent of runs. The Cardinals instead went on to win 13-1 and advance to the National League Championship Series.
Freeman, who led baseball in putouts by first basemen this year, and was fourth in fielding percentage (.996, with six errors), mishandled Yadier Molina’s ground ball in the first, turning a possible inning-ending double play into an error that enabled the Cardinals to send nine more to the plate and score nine more runs.
Freeman left no doubt about the impact of that one play not made.
“They got nine more runs. That was pretty much the game right there,” he said afterward.
That said, he was asked, how much of this lost game and another lost playoff series was he going to put on his shoulders?
“All of it,” he answered. “I didn’t come through. I know everybody is going to say what they want to say but this one’s on me.”
Setting the scene: The Cards led 1-0 in the top of the first, with one out and Marcell Ozuna on first and Paul Goldschmidt on second. Molina hit a sharp grounder directly toward Freeman, who was possibly distracted by Ozuna as he ran in front of the play. The ball hopped and glanced off Freeman’s glove, wandering off enough for even a slow-footed 37-year-old catcher to easily reach first.
“I don't know that that Ozuna didn't block him a little bit on that ball, if he saw it good. I'd have to go back and look at it,” Braves manager Brian Snitker said.
Freeman, one who never met an excuse he would use, insisted he wasn’t blocked. “I just missed it,” he said.
Of the play in general and whether the damage could have been limited to one run, Snitker added, “I'm not going to go belabor that, quite honestly. I'm just going to talk about what was.”
There was the chance of the Braves heading back to their dugout down 1-0. Instead, the Braves found themselves in a one-out bases-loaded jam. And, from there, in a game that would unravel shockingly. Of all the numbing events that contributed to a postseason-record-tying 10-run inning, a Freeman error may have been the most unfathomable. Dependability has homesteaded that corner of the Braves infield for the better part of nine seasons.
“Everyone had sky high confidence going into that game and them scoring 10 runs, it’s hard to swallow,” Freeman said.
“Everything went wrong from the get-go,” he said.
His teammates around the infield took turns guarding Freeman’s back.
“Freddie Freemen is one of the best players in baseball. You never expect him to make a mistake,” said third baseman Josh Donaldson. “The guy has been on point all season long.”
“First of all I think we all would agree that he takes ownership over his play, like we all do,” shortstop Dansby Swanson said. “But it doesn’t come down to one hitter. Doesn’t come down to one player. Doesn’t come down to one specific instance. We’re a team. We win and lose together. We had so many different opportunities that we didn’t grasp.”
Swanson further added: “He’s tough on himself. He expects himself to be great and he is great. But at the same time no one’s placing blame on him for anything. It just shows you his accountability and his strive to be something bigger than himself.”
Before that one glaring play afield, all the noise around Freeman concerned his lack of hitting and the possible effects of a painful bone spur in his right elbow. While he curtly shot down all suggestions that he was hurt, Freeman, who hasn’t hit lower than .295 in his past four seasons, put out a series of ugly at-bats against St. Louis.
“None. I have no problems with my elbow,” he reiterated Wednesday night.
The No. 3 hitter was part of a donut of a lineup the Braves fielded against St. Louis, one with a big hole in the middle. The fact that the Braves had even extended the series to Wednesday with their Nos. 3-5 hitters going a combined 7-for-48 (.146) with just three RBIs and 12 strikeouts was something of a wonder.
Freeman entered Wednesday’s game 2-for-16 (.125) against St. Louis, with a home run, that one skinny RBI, one walk and five strikeouts.
Wednesday, with his team already down 10-0, Freeman did single to center in his first at-bat, his third hit of the series. He added a double off the wall in the eighth, raising his 2019 postseason average to .200. That didn’t seem to make anything better.
More in keeping with the dark theme of Freeman’s miserable series were his other pair of at-bats this evening.
In the third inning, Freeman struck out on four pitches.
In the fifth, as if to add one more stinging insult to his series, Freeman came up with the bases loaded and two out. Even down 13-1 at that point, the crowd picked up a “Freddie! Freddie! Freddie!” chant.
Freeman grounded into the shift, the Cards getting the third out at second.
There would be no real relief to a brief and bitter postseason for the Braves first baseman.
How long will it take to recover?
“It’s gonna be a while,” Freeman said glumly.
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