MILWAUKEE -- A broken bone limited David Freese's availability in the regular season. Now healthy, the third baseman is showing why he is regarded as a future star.
Freese is enjoying a breakout postseason. His three-run homer in the first inning on Sunday set the tone in the Cardinals' 12-6 victory over the Brewers in Game 6 of the National League Championship Series at Miller Park.
It was just the start of a big game for Freese, who had three hits and was a triple shy of the cycle on the night St. Louis qualified for the World Series.
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In a lineup that features stars Albert Pujols, Lance Berkman and Matt Holliday, it was the 28-year-old Freese who made the most significant contributions throughout the series. The unheralded hero's production didn't go unnoticed, as he was named the NLCS Most Valuable Player.
Based on Freese's impressive NLCS, some may wonder whether he is a one-week wonder. The Cards see Freese in a different light.
"There's a lot of guys who have talent," manger Tony La Russa said. "But to be successful in this league, you have to be tough. You have to have good character.
"He's a very tough individual. He's had bad breaks with his ankle [in 2010] and his hand. This guy has got great insides, and it matches his talents. This guy is going to be a star. If he can stay healthy, he's going to be a star, year-in, year-out. A clutch star."
La Russa echoes what the Cardinals players have been saying throughout the series. A few days ago, Berkman noted that Freese has the ability to become an elite third baseman.
"We all knew that he was that kind of player," Berkman said. "Now he's doing it on a national stage. He's a great player. He will be one of the premier third basemen in the league for the next few years, for sure."
In the NLCS, Freese finished 12-for-22 (.545) with three homers, three doubles, seven runs scored and nine RBIs. For defensive purposes, he was lifted in the bottom of the eighth inning on Sunday, after his 3-for-4 night.
In the champagne celebration after the game, Freese stood at the podium in the Cardinals' clubhouse, raising the MVP trophy. Never did he imagine that the award would go to him.
"No chance," Freese said. "Not with the guys in this lineup. I think the bullpen deserves the award. I know you can't give it to a number of guys, but they're the reason why we're here."
If not for injury, Freese may have posted huge numbers in the regular season. But he missed significant time due to a broken left hand. In 97 games, he batted .297 with 10 homers and 55 RBIs.
Freese isn't wondering what would have happened if he had played in 150 games. He's riding the emotional wave of being a playoff hero.
"I've had a good week," the third baseman said. "I take it one game at a time. I know it's a boring answer, but that's the way I do it."
As a young player, Freese admits there is a benefit to being in a star-filled lineup.
"When you watch Albert, Lance and Matt, and how they do things, it helps," Freese said. "You've got to go one pitch at a time. They don't throw [at-bats] away. I'm learning every [at-bat] is so crucial, especially in this kind of situation."
Freese has come a long way since coming off the disabled list a few months back. The broken hand occurred when he was struck by a Scott Linebrink pitch at Atlanta on May 1. The next day, he went on the disabled list and didn't return until June 28.
Before the injury, Freese was off to a fast start, batting .356 with four doubles, two homers, 14 RBIs and a .394 on-base percentage in his first 87 at-bats. After returning, the third baseman hit .276 with eight homers, 41 RBIs and a .335 on-base percentage.
In the postseason, he heated up. Against the Phillies in the NL Division Series, he had a homer and five RBIs in five games.
"He's a great player," Holliday said. "He's hot, and playing really well. He's a major contributor, and that's why he was standing up there [on the podium]."
Freese's three-run first-inning homer off Shaun Marcum provided an immediate boost to the Cardinals, who clearly were looking to avoid playing a Game 7.
"I just went up, and I do what I do every time," Freese said of his home run. "I am ready to hit every pitch. I got something to hit, and I went after it. I was fortunate enough that it left."
Freese gave the Cards a boost from several spots in the order. For the first three games of the NLCS, he batted seventh, and he moved up to cleanup in Game 4. The final two games, he was slotted sixth.
"He's special. There is no doubt about it," Berkman said. "Whatever 'it' is, that guy's got it. He demonstrated it yet again."
Joe Frisaro is a reporter for MLB.com. He writes a blog, called The Fish Pond. Follow him on Twitter @JoeFrisaro. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.