October 5, 2011: Rally Squirrel and David Freese emerge as postseason heroes

With the Cardinals’ backs against the wall in Game 4 of the 2011 NLDS, David Freese and the Rally Squirrel made their debuts as postseason heroes.

Down two games to one in the best-of-five series following a 3-2 loss in Game 3, the Cardinals needed back-to-back wins to keep their season alive. That was a tall task against the National League East Division champion Phillies, who had won 102 games during the regular season behind the strength of baseball’s best rotation.

Starting Game 4 for the Phillies was Roy Oswalt, the Astros’ former ace who was now working the back half of the rotation for a Philadelphia staff that included Roy Halladay, Cliff Lee, and Cole Hamels, each of whom already had pitched in the series. Oswalt went 9-10 during the regular season with a 3.69 ERA across 139 innings.

The Cardinals answered with Edwin Jackson, a 27-year-old right-hander who came to St. Louis in July alongside Octavio Dotel, Corey Patterson, and Marc Rzepczynski in a trade for Trever Miller, Colby Rasmus, Brian Tallet, and P.J. Walters. Since arriving in St. Louis, Jackson had gone 5-2 with a 3.58 ERA in 78 innings, and Game 4 marked the first postseason start of his career.

The Phillies, however, jumped on Jackson before the right-hander could get his first out. Jimmy Rollins led off the game with a ground-rule double before Chase Utley tripled and Hunter Pence singled to give Philadelphia a 2-0 lead. After a double play in which Jackson struck out Ryan Howard and Yadier Molina threw out Pence as he tried to steal second, Shane Victorino flied out to left field to end the inning.

Facing an early two-run deficit, the Cardinals went to work. Skip Schumaker hit a one-out single. When Lance Berkman doubled into center field, Victorino slipped as he fielded the ball, allowing Schumaker to score from first.

In the fourth inning, after Berkman drew a leadoff walk and Matt Holliday was hit by a pitch, bringing Freese to the plate. The 28-year-old Freese had hit .297 with 10 homers and 55 RBIs during the regular season, but was just 2-for-13 with seven strikeouts in the playoffs, including three K’s in Game 3 and another in his first at-bat of Game 4. In fact, prior to the game La Russa and the Cardinals coaching staff had debated whether to replace Freese with Daniel Descalso.

“The vote was for David because we knew David was going to take a really tough at-bat, whether he strikes out or whatever,” La Russa said. “That’s just what he is.”[1]

After Oswalt struck Freese out in the second inning, Freese headed to the clubhouse video room, where it was clear that he hadn’t gotten his front foot down in time to contend with Oswalt’s fastball. With that adjustment in mind, Freese pulled a two-run double down the left-field line to give St. Louis a 3-2 lead.

“I thought my worst pitch was probably the curveball to Freese for the double down the line,” Oswalt said. “That was probably bad pitch selection.”[2]

Two innings later, the graduate of Lafayette High School in Wildwood, Missouri, launched a 424-foot, two-run homer off Oswalt to extend the Cardinals’ lead to 5-2.

“I got (my front foot) down and stayed back,” Freese said. “I did it again on the home run. It’s a big thing that sometimes I forget about, but I try and go back to. The coaches remind me that when I get my foot down I’m a different hitter.”[3]

“It’s fun to watch,” Holliday said. “I really enjoyed watching him come up with the key hits like that, especially in his hometown in a big spot. He basically won the game for us.”[4]

Freese became just the 11th Cardinal to have four RBIs in a postseason game and the first since Reggie Sanders drove in six runs against the Padres in 2005.

“It’s crazy,” said Freese, who attended the University of Missouri but didn’t play baseball until transferring to South Alabama. “To think 10 years ago I was at Mizzou and didn’t have a baseball within 100 miles of me. Just doing this is crazy, but I’ve been dreaming about the World Series, not the division series. We’ve got to keep going.”[5]

Berkman offered a prescient assessment of Freese’s potential.

“He may not be a household name yet, but he’s going to be,” Berkman said. “This club is going to get a lot of big hits like he did tonight from David. That’s what he’s capable of. He’s a special player. He had two big hits and consequently we’re playing Game 5.”[6]

 Freese wasn’t the only breakout star of Game 4. In the fifth inning, as Schumaker was at the plate against Oswalt, a gray squirrel ran across home plate. Home plate umpire Angel Hernandez called the pitch a ball and Oswalt and Phillies manager Charlie Manuel each argued that it should have been ruled no pitch due to the distraction caused by the squirrel.

“I told him as I was throwing the ball I saw (the squirrel) out of the corner of my eye,” Oswalt said. “I didn’t want to stop in the middle of my motion, so I threw it.”[7]

One inning later, Freese hit his two-run homer, and almost immediately, the “Rally Squirrel” captured the imagination of fans. Within days, there were T-shirts, costumes, and even chocolate rally squirrel candies.[8]

Jackson, meanwhile, continued to roll. After escaping the first inning, he allowed just two singles and walked one batter. In Jackson’s sixth and final inning, Utley drew a leadoff walk. When Pence followed with a ground ball to shortstop, first baseman Albert Pujols came off the bag to throw out Utley, who attempted to round second and take third base on the play. With Utley off the base paths and Pence at first, Jackson retired the next two Phillies to end the inning.

“I thought it would be tough if I stayed on the bag to get him at third too, so I decided, nobody out, to get the guy running to third,” Pujols said. “Obviously, that killed the rally.”[9]

After six innings and 77 pitches from Jackson, La Russa turned to his bullpen, beginning with left-hander Arthur Rhodes, who struck out Raul Ibanez to begin the seventh. Dotel retired the next two batters to wrap up the seventh inning.

Fernando Salas, who had played a key role in the Cardinals’ Game 2 win, allowed one run in the eighth on two singles, a balk, and a wild pitch. When the left-handed hitting Howard stepped to the plate with two outs, La Russa responded with the lefty Rzepczynski, who struck out the Phillies slugger to end the inning.

With a 5-3 lead, the ninth inning belonged to Jason Motte, who retired Victorino, Ibanez, and former Cardinal Placido Polanco in order to secure the win.

“It seems like the next game has been make-or-break the last two months,” Motte said. “There’s nothing new about this situation. We were in a position where nobody outside of here gave us a chance and probably some people in here didn’t think much of it either. We’re used to it.”[10]

Jackson earned the win after allowing two earned runs over six innings. Oswalt took the loss for the Phillies after allowing five earned runs over six innings. It was his first defeat in 10 career postseason starts.

With their seasons on the line, both teams were slated to start their respective aces, Chris Carpenter and Halladay, in the fifth and final game of the series.

“We’re going to go out and play our game,” Berkman said. “If it’s good enough, great. If not, we’ve got nothing to hang our heads about. No matter what happens Friday, we’ve got nothing to be ashamed of.”[11]


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[1] Tom Timmermann, “Freese breaks out in Game 4,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, October 6, 2011.

[2] Ray Parrillo, “A postseason first for Oswalt,” Philadelphia Inquirer, October 6, 2011.

[3] Joe Strauss, “Winner-take-all game looms,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, October 6, 2011.

[4] Joe Strauss, “Winner-take-all game looms,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, October 6, 2011.

[5] Joe Strauss, “Winner-take-all game looms,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, October 6, 2011.

[6] Tom Timmermann, “Freese breaks out in Game 4,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, October 6, 2011.

[7] Ray Parrillo, “A postseason first for Oswalt,” Philadelphia Inquirer, October 6, 2011.

[8] Steve Gardner, “Cardinals fans go nuts for the Rally Squirrel,” USA Today, October 19, 2011.

[9] Joe Strauss, “Winner-take-all game looms,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, October 6, 2011.

[10] Joe Strauss, “Winner-take-all game looms,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, October 6, 2011.

[11] Joe Strauss, “Winner-take-all game looms,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, October 6, 2011.

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