DENVER — The party in LoDo will go on. Always does. Coors Field is the heart of Grin City, after all.
But without good Kyle Freeland, Colorado's run of baseball fun has a curfew.
The Rockies need K-Free, and bad. These baseball miracles that keep surfacing at 20th and Blake — like the one Thursday, another ridiculous heart-stopper — carry an expiration date. As the Rockies left the clubhouse with an 11-10 win and four-game sweep of the Arizona Diamondbacks, they didn’t take the celebration home with them. A team coming off consecutive postseasons knows 11-10 final scores won’t cut it, not over time.
“My frustration is high, no doubt,” Freeland said.
In the short term, this is fun, man. Coors Field rocked like Zac Brown Band arrived early when Daniel Murphy scored Trevor Story in the 11th inning and made it four walk-off wins in a week, the most in a homestand in franchise history. Did Colorado College score Oprah as a guest speaker, or was it the Rox marketing folks: You get a Gatorade bath! You get a Gatorade bath!
“Does that tie any records or anything?” said Ryan McMahon, whose 458-foot homer channeled the sweet lefty swing of Carlos Gonzalez.
Along with that snazzy franchise record, Colorado’s four walk-offs in a single homestand marked the first time that’s been done since the Kansas City Royals did the same two years ago.
“It’s fun every time,” McMahon said. “Every one is fun.”
But over the long haul? The 26-year-old Freeland is the linchpin of a starting rotation that’s supposed to shoulder the Rox into a new era anchored by first-class starting pitching.
And he’s lost it. His swag, mojo, location — going, going, gone. After Freeland was chased before the fifth inning for the third straight start, any golfer who’s contracted the dreaded yips can relate to Freeland’s dumpy body language. There’s nothing tougher in sports than failing when you know you can do this. Doubt festers like a mental cold sore and hurts even worse.
"I’m doing everything I can to get back to being me and the pitcher I know I can be," he said.
Take note, Phillip Lindsay. When you’re the hometown dude, soaking in success is like sitting on top of the world. The locals whisper at beer league softball games over at Kennedy Fields, Kyle was on my neighbor’s friend’s second grade tee ball team. He’s such a nice guy, too. But when things aren’t going so swell and the D-Backs get you for five earned runs over three innings, an entire community of K-Free fans is here to let you know how to get it back. Not sure that really helps, either.
“I’ve had quite a few people reach out to me to tell me what they think, what they see — old pitching coaches, old coaches, friends. I’m just trying to find ways for me to understand what is going to help me get back to being me,” said Freeland, who last year set the team record with a well-earned 2.85 ERA. His ERA entering Thursday’s start was 8.65 and climbing.
“Right now it’s a whole bunch of different things from a whole bunch of different people,” he said. “I’m trying to funnel that as best I can and use what I understand and what I think will help me.”
I mean this from the bottom of my Colorado-loving heart: Freeland's going to bounce back from this stinky stretch. He’s too competitive and too gifted to go the way of Eddie Butler or Tyler Matzek. But now he’s also become a one-man case study for the effects of Coors Field on a pitcher’s psyche. If a first-round pick born and raised at 5,280 feet finds it impossible to sustain success at elevation, who in the world can?
“I’d give him the ball every day if I could,” Murphy said.
The Rockies should have the right man in the dugout to help him through. The year was 1985 when Bud Black hit a similar rough patch with the Royals. Over a string of crummy starts in May and June, Black wore a groovy Tom Selleck mustache and... eight losses in 10 games.
Black was 28. Freeland’s 26. If there’s anyone at 20th and Blake who can help a pitcher beat a frustrating funk, it's Black, who was hired exactly for moments like this one with Freeland.
"We're going to talk with Kyle,” Black said after the Rockies rolled above .500 (28-27) for the first time since way back on March 30, in Game 2. "We’re going to figure this out."
That was the hope and prayer from 30,000-plus at a Thursday matinee, too. The party's always more fun with the guy everybody knows.