It has been said that courage is developed through battling and conquering adversity. The Colorado Rockies are a team that epitomizes perseverance amidst a difficult situation. After Sunday’s Game 162 finale, the Rockies and their division foe Los Angeles Dodgers were tied atop the NL West. Both teams were forced into a historical Game 163, where the Dodgers dominated the Mile High franchise 5-2.
After playing the Monday Game 163 contest, the Rockies had to travel from the West coast to the raucous cathedral of Wrigley Field to take on the Chicago Cubs in the NL Wild Card Game. While the Cubs also played a Game 163 against the Milwaukee Brewers, they had the luxury of not traveling. Their experience in elimination games in recent history has been second to none as many Cubs fans can gleefully recall coming back from three games to one down against the Cleveland Indians to win their first World Series in over 100 years.
It was the Colorado Rockies who rose to the playoff occasion. In the longest Wild Card Game in MLB Postseason history, the Rockies dethroned the Cubs 2-1 in 13 innings to advance to their first NLDS since 2009.
Tony Wolters RBI Single Gives Colorado Rockies NL Wild Card Victory
Kyle Freeland Pitches a Stellar Performance
Kyle Freeland is living a childhood dream. A native of Denver, Colorado, the young pitcher went from playing catch with his Dad to being named the starter for the Rockies in the NL Wild Card Game.
This season was a breakout year for the rising star. He ended the season with 17 wins, a 2.85 ERA, and 1.25 WHIP. His 8.4 WAR was the best in Rockies franchise history and he has the lowest ERA for a Colorado pitcher at Coors Field with 2.40.
Coming into the Wild Card Game, Freeland was pitching on short rest. History shows that pitchers in the postseason do not perform well on short rest, reflected in their 1-6 record with an ERA over 6. But the young pitcher proved the statistics wrong with a brilliant performance against an onslaught of experienced Cubs hitters. Freeland would pitch six and two-thirds innings of shutout baseball, only giving up four hits, one walk and tallying six strikeouts. Those are the performances that any pitcher competing in the postseason dreams of their whole lives. The 25-year old got to experience first hand the exceptional magnitude of conquering pressure with ease, with many more of these to come in his career.
“It was so much fun to compete out there tonight,” said Freeland after the game. “Nice to come out on top today and have the team back you up and a team that just continued to fight, no matter what was happening. It was absolutely incredible.”
Tony Wolters Etched into Postseason Legends Row
When Rockies manager Bud Black took Freeland out of the game, it was a surprising move, given how well the young pitcher was performing. In came relief pitcher Adam Ottavino, who looked more anxious on the mound compared to the calm Freeland.
From the sixth to the eighth inning, the Cubs had runners in scoring position but could not generate a run. Ottavino’s worst nightmare would occur when he left a hanging pitch to Javier Baez, who would convert an RBI double to tie the game at one. Throughout the entire season, Baez had the highest chasing rate out of any player in the big leagues. A costly mistake for Ottavino when up against a proven, clutch hitter.
In October, there are always the unsung heroes who rise from the woodwork to become postseason legends. Kirk Gibson on one leg in the 1988 World Series with the walk-off home run. David Freese with the walk-off home run in the 2011 World Series in extra innings.
Entering the NL Wild Card Game, Wolters had only 31 hits this season, hitting a measly .170. He was 0-for-15 in his final nine regular season games and had only one career go-ahead hit in extra innings. But in the top of the 13th, runners on first and second, down to the last out and strike, Wolters blazed the ball up the middle to center field, for the historical go-ahead RBI single. Every player dreams of the opportunity to get the game-winning hit in a do-or-die playoff game. Given the struggles he has had to endure this season, it makes the moment much sweeter for Wolters, having the full knowledge of what his hit would mean for his team and Rockies history.
“This game can kick your butt sometimes,” said Wolters. “There’s a lot of adversity, but I’m not ever going to let that take me down. So I think that adversity makes you stronger and these guys helped me out a lot throughout the season to prepare me for this moment.”
Rockies Become Rocktober
Tonight’s NL Wild Card Game made history in more ways than one. Not only was it the longest Wild Card Game in postseason history, but it was also the longest game played at Wrigley Field. Up against the wall, after playing three days in three different time zones, the Rockies have advanced to the NLDS, taking on a very difficult Milwaukee Brewers team.
2009 was the last year Coors Field got to experience postseason baseball. Both Milwaukee and Colorado enter the NLDS brimming with confidence, with both teams possessing star players. The adversity will always be there for players progressing through the postseason. But the Rockies must remember how far they have come after losing last year in the Wild Card Game, transitioning from a team packing their bags to a rejuvenated organization that is ready to embrace “Rocktober” from start to finish. As Wolters states, Colorado is a dangerous team that no one wants to face in the postseason.
“We know it’s going to be a tough series,” said Wolters. “Milwaukee’s a good team, we have had some battles throughout the year, two very talented teams. So we like ourselves against anybody, no matter who it is and we feel like we can beat anybody, so we’ll show up Thursday ready to play.”
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