DENVER - We’re not going to get carried away.
We wouldn’t dare say the Denver Public School League has given Kyle Freeland tougher outings than he had Friday afternoon against the Los Angeles Dodgers in his major-league debut at Coors Field.
As starters go, though, Freeland had himself a day. Before many of his Thomas Jefferson High School buddies, and family, Freeland demonstrated both good stuff and poise under pressure while helping the Colorado Rockies defeat the Los Angeles Dodgers, 2-1, before a home-opening sellout crowd of 49,169 at Coors Field.
“It couldn’t have gone any better,'' Freeland said. "It was a great day. Proud to be here, happy to be here. I couldn’t have scripted it any better.’’
Approximately 40,000 of the 49,000 were irked the score wasn't 12-11 instead of 2-1. But they were happy for the hometown kid.
"I know he wasn't calm, but he looked calm,'' said Rockies manager Bud Black. "I'm sure he tried to keep it all together from the time he got to the ballpark. ... I'm proud of him, the way he handled it.''
A big-league debut is exciting enough. A big-league debut in the Rockies' home opener will fray the hairs on a kid's left forearm. What Freeland did Friday had not been in 51 years. The last starting pitcher to make his big-league debut for his hometown team in his hometown team's season home opener was Chuck Dobson for the Kansas City Athletics in April, 1966. (Dobson also got the win, 3-2 against Minnesota).
If Freeland's nerves were magnified, the lanky lefty ushered them into a splendid pitching performance.
“I was trying to play it cool but butterflies were definitely jumping around in my stomach,'' Freeland said.
He struck out six in his six innings – including four batters in a row at one point – while allowing just four hits. The Rockies got a scoreless innings of relief from Carlos Estevez in the seventh, Scott Oberg in the eighth and Jake McGee in the ninth as Black gave ace bullpen pitchers Mike Dunn and Greg Holland the day off.
“I can get used to this that’s for sure,'' said Nolan Arenado, the Rockies' sublime third baseman. "There’s a lot of games left but to win both games, 2-1. Right? I mean I don’t the last time we won two games 2-1 back to back. It’s a good feeling.’’
The Rockies, who won the series finale at Milwaukee, 2-1, Thursday, are now 4-1 overall while the Dodgers slipped to 3-2.
The left-handed swinging Freeland even got his first big-league hit, a solid single to right off Dodgers’ left-handed pitcher Hyun-Jin Ryu.
"I'm pretty sure it was a fastball,'' Freeland said with a smile that acknowledged it couldn't have been anything else.
It's great to be left-handed. Freeland had a big advantage before he threw his first pitch as Dodgers' manager Dave Roberts took two of his best players, the left-handed hitting Corey Seager and Adrian Gonzalez, out of the starting lineup.
Seager and Gonzalez entered the game after Freeland was pulled following the sixth inning.
An RBI double by Arenado in the first inning and solo homer by Dustin Garneau in the fifth gave Freeland his runs. It held up.
"Straight fastball, out in the middle of the plate. Got the barrel to it,’’ Garneau said.
With a game-time temperature of 74 degrees, Freeland had two outs and nobody on in the first when he suddenly found trouble by surrendering a single to Justin Turner followed by walks to Yasiel Puig and Scott Van Slyke to load the bases.
But after a visit to the mound by Rockies’ pitching coach Steve Foster, Freeland settled down. He got out of the jam by inducing Yasmani Grandal to bounce into a force out.
Freeland then struck out Joc Pederson and Ryu to finish off a 1-2-3 second inning. According to Garneau, Freeland mostly used an effective two-seam fastball and changeup, although later in his outing he benefitted from a backdoor slider.
Freeland also struck out the first two batters in the third inning, Logan Forsythe and Franklin Gutierrez, before allowing a double to Turner, the Dodgers’ strong-hitting third baseman.
The Rockies have one of those, too. Arenado drove in the first run in the first inning on a double that scored DJ LeMahieu.
Arenado saved a run in the top of the third by making a diving stab to his left of Puig’s one-hop smash, and then threw him out to strand Turner at second.
“Having him a third, he’s like a magician over there,'' Freeland said. "It’s great You never know what he’s going to do, what he’s capable of. He’s always surprising.’’
In some ways, yes. In other ways an Arnado diving stop to his left is ho-hum.
“Yeah, I feel like the last three plays I’ve made have been all the same thing, diving to my left,'' said Arenado, who before the game picked up awards for Silver Slugger (top hitter at his position), Gold Glove and defensive player of the year for his work in 2016. "It was kind of weird. But it was a hard hit ball, short hop, I just tried to read it. Slow the game down. When balls are hit hard like that your first instinct is to get a little freaked out, I guess. But I try to get back and catch it deep and just react. It’s reaction, there’s not a lot of thinking going on when the ball is hit that hard. Your instincts take over and happy I made that play.’’
After Kike’ Hernandez tied the game, 1-1, with an RBI groundout in the fourth inning, Garneau homered to left to regain the lead. Freeland and his bullpen took it from there with McGee striking out all three batters he faced in the ninth to earn his first save since he lost the closer's role last June.
“I think a little more juiced up, opening day at home, ninth inning, one run game, pitching against the Dodgers and the hitters,'' McGee said. “I think it’s going to help us to a lot of wins this year. Especially the one-run games. Our offense is so good when they wake up we’re going to win by a lot. But at the same time to win one run games and our bullpen is showing up early, it's nice.’’
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