The MLB postseason is underway, and with it came a grueling, extra-inning battle in the National League Wild Card game between the Colorado Rockies and Chicago Cubs.
When Colorado jumped out to an early 1-0 lead in the first inning, it seemed like the first of several runs to come. Instead, baseball fans witnessed more than two hours of scoreless baseball until Javier Baez came through in the clutch to tie things up.
At times it seemed like it would never end. As each inning went by, no hitter would step up in the moment. Then it finally happened, Tony Wolters delivered in the 13th inning and sent the Rockies to the National League Division Series.
Here are the winners and losers from Tuesday’s N.L. Wild Card game.
Winner: Kyle Freeland
If anyone thought Freeland’s year couldn’t get any better, the 25-year-old proved them wrong with a phenomenal performance on Tuesday.
Freeland rose to the occasion in his first postseason start and even brought extra juice for the special occasion. The southpaw averaged 91.6 miles per hour on his fastball during the regular season, but brought it over 93 miles per hour against the Cubs.
Paired with his nasty slider, Chicago could rarely make good contact off Freeland’s pitches. On short rest, Freeland came through in the clutch with 6 2/3 scoreless innings at Wrigley Field in October. The kid who grew up in Denver and fell in love with the Rockies, he has become his favorite team’s ace and one of the best pitchers in baseball.
Loser: Chris Guccione
The postseason is supposed to be the time when MLB provides its best umpires. It should be even more paramount in single-elimination games. Instead, the Cubs and Rockies were stuck with Guccione’s strike zone.
It would be an understatement to call Guccione’s strike zone ludicrous. He frequently gave away strikes. Chicago certainly seemed to benefit the most, but both teams were visibly frustrated with Guccione throughout the game.
Trevor Story didn't see a single strike in his strikeout.
He swung at just one pitch. pic.twitter.com/hody5JvcCi
— Pitcher List (@PitcherList) October 3, 2018
While umpires may not like hearing fans call for electronic strike zones and they are tired of frequent criticism, this is exactly why it happens. There’s giving a pitcher a slight edge and then there’s what Guccione did.
He took the bat out of the hands of several All-Star hitters, which is completely unacceptable in a nationally televised game where the stakes were so high.
Winner: Jon Lester
It seemed like a night where, at any point, Colorado’s hitters would tee off and start racking up the runs. Instead, Lester seemingly sidestepped danger in nearly every inning.
This certainly wasn’t one of his sharpest outings, as the Rockies managed a lot of hard contact throughout the night. Yet in the biggest moment, Lester would get the big strikeout and move on to the next inning.
Tuesday’s battle turned into a duel between two excellent pitchers, Lester just didn’t get any run support and it cost him a shot at his 10th career postseason win. At the very least, Lester’s recent stretch of dominance in October continues.
From a stale broadcast with several errors to being trolled on social media for their own ignorance by the Rockies Twitter account. It’s difficult to imagine ESPN’s night of postseason baseball could have gone much worse.
It’s not that ESPN is incapable of having an enjoyable broadcast either. On ESPN2, viewers could watch the game and be informed about the game and analytics by Jason Bennett and Mike Petriello.
Unfortunately, most fans tuned in for ESPN’s standard broadcast. As a result, they had to hear Alex Rodriguez call Rockies first baseman Ian Desmond as “Desmond Howard”.
Here’s A-Rod calling Ian Desmond “Desmond Howard” 😂 pic.twitter.com/x5RujpFBgX
— Eric Edholm (@Eric_Edholm) October 3, 2018
It’s better for everyone that ESPN will not broadcast anymore MLB games this October.
Winner: Javier Baez
Chicago waited anxiously for its MVP to come through and provide the spark Wrigley Field needed to explode. It came in the eighth inning with Chicago just four outs away from being eliminated.
Baez stepped to the plate and immediately fell behind in a 0-2 count. A strikeout would end the inning and given the hitters behind him in the batting order, it would likely spell the end for Chicago.
Instead, Baez drilled it into left-center field and Terrance Gore sprinted home to tie the game and inject life into the Cubs. In a big moment, the new star of Chicago proved once again why he is so loved by the city.
Loser: Ian Desmond
Boneheaded mistakes on the field can cost a team in a regular season game. When a player makes a costly gaffe in a single-elimination game, that is a completely different story.
In the seventh inning, Desmond made a baserunning blunder that could be remembered for years in Colorado. After a leadoff hit, Desmond took off on David Dahl’s fly ball and got tagged out trying to advance to second. In an instant, the bases were empty with two outs in the inning.
Chicago would tie the game an inning later and when Desmond had his chance for redemption in the ninth inning with a runner on second, he struck out. After coming through in the clutch multiple times this season, Desmond utterly collapsed when it mattered in October.
Winner: Trevor Story
It’s been an incredible season for Story. The 25-year-old became a far more consistent player in the regular season and established himself as one of MLB’s emerging stars. When opportunities came his way in October, Story’s legacy grew even more.
It started at the plate, where he more than held his own with the bat. While we didn’t see the massive power from him, he turned in a multi-hit day and tried to put Colorado in position to build its lead.
What really stands out is the defense. In the bottom of the seventh inning with a runner on and Chicago in desperate need of a big hit with Albert Almora on first, Story had his moment. He made a jaw-dropping grab to rob Daniel Murphy of an extra-base hit that would have flipped the entire game. Instead, he provided another highlight to a ‘Story’book season.
Loser: MLB’s replay system
Replay was brought to baseball so the sport would avoid embarrassing missed calls by umpires in the big moments. As Tuesday night showed, even the addition of replay hasn’t kept MLB from blowing obvious calls.
This is about more than just the umpires, who obviously made an awful call that ruled Butera safe. The play was then sent to MLB’s state-of-the-art replay center in New York City, MLB had its moment to fix a poor call
Instead, MLB stuck by the call made by the umpire. The play stood as called and play resumed without a word. No explanation by the umpire for what he saw and no explanation from MLB’s replay center on the decision.
Winner: Tony Wolters
This wasn’t supposed to happen. Teams don’t regularly keep three catchers on their wild-card roster, especially one like Wolters. Yet in a grueling game, the 26-year-old with a .170 BA in 182 at-bats in the regular season, delivered in the biggest moment.
Tony Wolters hit .170 in the regular season
That ranked 374th among the 379 hitters with at least 150 at-bats
— Mark Simon (@MarkASimonSays) October 3, 2018
It’s really the magic of October. In the biggest moment, the unlikeliest of players can come through with a hit that wins a game and even a series. Wolters, who went 2-for-16 with a runner in scoring position and two outs during the regular season, came through with the hit that mattered in precisely the right moment.
Winner: Milwaukee Brewers
As the Rockies celebrated their victory, another celebration went down in Milwaukee. The Brewers were already favored to beat either wild card team, and now they’ll be overwhelming favorites against Colorado with a great chance at a sweep.
While Milwaukee’s pitching staff rested comfortably and its position players enjoyed a break, Colorado burned through five relievers, numerous position players and played in the longest winner-take-all game in postseason history.
Everything is in place for a magical run for the Brewers. The story is made even better because the Chicago Cubs, who Milwaukee forced into this wild-card game, did the Brewers a huge favor and made their path to the NLCS so much easier.