Kyle Freeland and Jon Lester were not Jack Morris and John Smoltz redux, but in an age where managers openly talk about hoping a postseason starter makes it through four innings, last night’s Wild Card game was a welcome reminder that, occasionally, starting pitchers are allowed to be starting pitchers in the postseason.
Freeland was working on short rest but you wouldn’t know it. His velocity was a tick higher than usual and his command was excellent. He was able to place his slider exactly where he wanted it and seemed to have Cubs batters off balance all night. He pitched shutout ball into the seventh inning, which is practically unheard of in modern postseason baseball, and that paid off for the Rockies when the game went 13 innings and Bud Black was allowed to use his best relievers when it mattered most.
Yeah, the Cubs lost, but hats off to Jon Lester too. The Cubs bullpen was on fumes after heavy use throughout most of September and in Monday’s tiebreaker game against the Brewers. His early trouble — the leadoff walk to Charlie Blackmon and the ground rule double to D.J. LeMahieu which moved him to third — ended up being huge in a close, low-scoring game. But that’s on the offense, not on Lester. As it was he kept the Cubs in the game, allowing only one run on four hits over six, while striking out nine.
It was a thirteen inning game so, obviously, there were a great many relief pitchers deployed last night, but I gotta say, it was really nice to see two starters work for as long as they did. It helped build the tension and the drama. It helped me stay engaged in a way that I have trouble staying engaged when a parade of relievers begins in the third or fourth inning. Yes, I know that’s partially my problem. I’m not trying to play some judgmental “get off my lawn” card here and wish baseball would only conform to the way I like it best. The game changes. I’m just being honest about what engages me and what does not.
I don’t expect the pattern to hold in the playoffs — we’re going to see a TON of relief pitchers, early and often, in almost every game — but it was nice to have something approaching traditional starting pitcher usage for at least one night.