No matter what has happened to the Colorado Rockies during the last five years, the memories of the 2018 National League Wild Card Game simply cannot be erased.
Colorado has won 10 playoff games during their five postseason appearances in 31 seasons. Seven of those came in 2007. Two others came in elimination games. But the most recent came exactly five years ago today.
Tuesday, Oct. 2, 2018. Against the dynastic Chicago Cubs, who had won the 2016 World Series and reached the National League Championship Series in 2015 and 2017, your pals in purple did what they had failed to do the day before and the year before in the 2017 NL Wild Card Game.
The Rockies were fatigued, but elated when they landed in Chicago. It was their third city in as many days, wrapping up the regular season with a win at home before flying to Los Angeles to lose Game 163 for supremacy of the NL West. (After the NLWC, they’d play in city no. 4, Milwaukee, two days later.)
Sitting down with Kyle Freeland in Chicago on the eve of the five-year anniversary to discuss his recollections from that game and the days leading up to the biggest performance of his career, his demeanor seemed purely joyful when staring out at Wrigley Field from the first base dugout, remembering that magical night.
After posting the lowest qualified earned run average (2.85) for a single-season in franchise history, he went out to the mound once again and posted like a champ. He eventually finished fourth for Cy Young Award, but the 6.2 scoreless innings of work that night would not factor into the voting.
Like every big game, there were unlikely heroes. The entire bullpen, especially Wade Davis, Seunghwan Oh and Chris Rusin combined to keep the Cubs scoreless across four frames before Scott Oberg got five more outs, including the final four via strikeout. At the plate, Tony Wolters, the third-string catcher at that point, singled to score Trevor Story and give Colorado a 2-1 lead in the 13th inning.
On the first day following the end of a season, now feels like a great time to think about the days when the wins, even in October, came a lot easier.
Patrick Lyons: Were those other reporters asking you about striking out Shohei?
Kyle Freeland: No, they were actually talking about Shohei taking me deep.
Lyons: Oh really?
Freeland: I made sure to throw in there that I stuck him out in the WBC Championship.
Lyons: That was a much more important game. You know, I still have the video clip pinned on my Twitter because it has like a million views. It’s your comment on it on the homer. I’m waiting for something else to hit big so I can pin something else up. I apologize about that.
Freeland: No, you’re good. It was incredible.
“The pitch that Ohtani hit is a pitch that there’s only one human being on this planet that has any business swinging at that pitch and that’s him.”
~Kyle Freeland on Shohei’s 25th home run this season and 200th as a professional pic.twitter.com/uy5fGzmAYv
— Patrick Lyons (@PatrickDLyons) June 24, 2023
Lyons: I didn’t see until the next day your reaction where you turned around and had an even better response to the Ohtani homer.
Freeland: I was telling (the reporters) it was a purpose pitch. I really had no intentions of throwing it in the zone. I wanted to try to get him off the plate and move his feet a little bit to help set up my next sequence. And next thing I know, he pull his hands in, gets the barrel to the ball and hits it out. You know, out of the hand, I knew that I executed the pitch. Really hoping for either just to back him off or maybe get weak contact or foul ball or something like that. But then he hit it out.
Lyons: Was it one where you thought like, okay, that’s probably going to be foul.
Freeland: No. He did pull it, but it was in the right-center gap towards our bullpen. If anything, on a pitch like that, if someone’s going to foul it off, more than likely they’re going to get the head out way too soon and pull it foul just because of the location of the pitch, but that’s the caliber of player that he is. He knows how to suck those hands in and get the barrel on the right path to the ball.
Lyons: Have you found out if that’s like a common thing. I wonder if you’ve done that before a little bit or or people have thrown that first same purpose pitch.
Freeland: Yeah, I’ve seen him hit some ridiculous home runs obviously, the kind of player that he is, and the amount of plate coverage he has. He’s able to hit balls that you kind of scratch your head at. That was definitely one of them. That is just a pure head scratcher.
Shohei Ohtani’s 25th HR off Kyle Freeland and in the replay the cameras cut away from Kyle as he says “How the FUCK did you hit that” pic.twitter.com/iQYELqLYAV
— Three raccoons in a trench coat (@MissLea_Jay) June 24, 2023
Lyons: 2018 National League Wild Card Game. We’re back here on nearly the five-year anniversary, almost exactly, which is wild. How often do you think about that game and that performance?
Freeland: I definitely think about it, especially when we come back here. It’s always gonna be a great memory for this organization and for myself. It was such a fun — what was that, 56 hours, 72 hours of baseball? — you know we clinched at home for the playoffs. And then Game 163 in L.A., lost, had to then fly to Chicago for the Wild Card. And it was at that point, long season, everyone’s tired but so excited for what’s to come. We get to Chicago. You know, this theater. Wild Card, one and done. Everything was just setting up to just be an extremely fun time. And thankfully, we were able to come out on top and beat the Cubs on their own field. But yeah, it’s one of those games that’s certainly going to go down for me at least now as one of my favorite games ever to play in, be a part of, watched, witnessed. Like I said, doing it in this stadium too was I don’t think you could do it any better.
Lyons: Do you think it helped that it was just a big whirlwind? Like you don’t have a chance to think about, oh, the history in this ballpark, et cetera, et cetera, like just go out there and play this game?
Freeland: Yeah, I think things were moving so fast for us. Three different cities in three different days. Whirlwind of emotions of clinching playoffs, losing the division, having to go to a Wild Card. It was just a whirlwind for all of us. So I think it kind of helped us that we didn’t have any time to sit and think and prep. It was just like, go play baseball, go play baseball, go win games. I think that helped us as a team, as a whole, to keep our focus where it needs to be. Incredible baseball game that night. You know, me and (Jon) Lester going back and forth. Key hits were going on, we were able to stop traffic. Great plays by both sides of the defense. It was just so much fun.
Lyons: And it was just like a perfect game where you’ve got guys like yourself during a fantastic year, Cy Young Award type of year, going out shoving again. And then the guys you don’t count on as much about Tony Wolters with the game-winning hit and Scott Oberg, who’s known in Colorado, but around the world, who is this guy, and it’s just that perfect mix.
Looking back on his career, @scottoberg45 remembers the epic 2018 NL Wild Card game.
— MLB Network Radio on SiriusXM (@MLBNetworkRadio) January 12, 2023
Freeland: Yeah, I mean, it was crazy. I think Charlie (Blackmon) got pulled in like the seventh or eighth inning, something like that. And both teams were doing switches in the lineup, you know, both bullpens were completely getting burnt out. It’s a one and done, so everything’s on the table of whatever you need to do to get to get a win from a managerial standpoint and that’s kind of what we did. If you were to place a bet on Tony Wolters getting the game-winning hit in the Wild Card Game in the 13th inning, it would have been some serious plus-money going on there. I don’t think anyone expected Tony to be a hero, but that’s the beauty of sports is any guy — and that’s why you play — any guy at any point could step up and be the guy and come up with that clutch hit, clutch pitch, clutch play, whatever.
Throwback to the 2018 NL Wild Card when Tony Wolters, a man with a .170 BA – comes up for his first AB of the game in the top of the 13th inning and has the biggest hit of his career to send the @Rockies to the NLDS pic.twitter.com/Zz9D6BKLAj
— Rockies HQ (@RockiesHQ) March 10, 2019
Lyons: Do you remind Kris Bryant at all like, hey, by the way, remember 2018?
Freeland: We’ve discussed it a few times. It’s a fun memory. He’s told me too how much fun that game was. Obviously, they’ve gone to the World Series and won a World Series so that’s a whole different level. But games like that where they’re so tight, extra-innings, playoffs, October baseball. It’s a ton of fun. I remember actually, the first time I met Daniel Murphy. When we signed him in 2019, I was in Buddy’s office and was talking to Buddy, you know, prepping for Spring Training. I asked him how I’m doing, everything like that, and Murphy walked in. It was his first day and introduced himself to skip and Buddy said, “You know Kyle Freeland?” And Murph looks at me, shakes my hand. He goes, “Yep, you ended my season last year.” That was the first time I met Daniel Murphy. Little bit of salt in the wound, but you know, we all know him. He’s an incredible human being. He probably loved playing that game as well. But a little fun, now we’re teammates kind of razzing.
Lyons: With Bryant’s standing ovation here, when you see that moment, obviously it’s great. But do you think about your career and how, hey, you know, I’m building something here myself. I’m just continuing to build something in Colorado.
Freeland: Yeah. When you see moments like that with a guy who’s come back to where he really grew up in baseball, you always pay attention to it. It’s such a cool moment of seeing fans truly give back and show their appreciation for a certain player. So, I definitely hope that in my future, wherever it takes me in baseball, whether I’m with the Rockies my whole career, or if you know, at some point, things move on, I would hope that whenever I do come back to Coors Field, it’s something similar to that just because that’s a special moment, for not only Kris, but for their organization saluting the kind of caliber of player that he is, what he did for that organization when he was with them. Super cool to see.