June 23, 2024

There are two very good reasons why Freddie Freeman didn’t pull the second-base bag out of the ground and hoist it over his head like Rickey Henderson after the Dodgers first baseman notched his career-high 20th stolen base in the seventh inning of Monday night’s 8-3 win over the Detroit Tigers.

The first was that Freeman was initially ruled out by umpire Dan Bellino on catcher Jake Rogers’ one-hop throw, leaving no time for spontaneity. It was only after the call was overturned by replay review that Freeman became just the 11th first baseman in major league history to hit at least 20 homers and steal 20 bases in a season.

The second was that as impressive as Freeman’s feat is for a 34-year-old first baseman who is hardly fleet of foot, it was only the 86th stolen base of his 14-year career, leaving him 1,320 bags shy of Henderson’s all-time record of 1,406 stolen bases, set from 1979-2003.

“He’s far from Rickey as far as that category,” Dodgers manager Dave Roberts, an accomplished base-stealer himself during his playing days, said jokingly after the game, “but it’s still quite the milestone.”

Which is why Freeman, who is putting together another MVP-caliber season after winning the National League most valuable player award with the Atlanta Braves in 2020, felt like Henderson on the inside.

“This is one thing I never thought I’d do in my career, so it was pretty cool,” said Freeman, who topped his previous high of 13 stolen bases in 2022. “A lot of credit has to go to [first-base coach] Clayton McCullough. So much work goes into it before games, picking up patterns on pitchers, situations of when to go and not to go.

“First basemen usually aren’t speed demons. Like, my dad just texted me, he goes, ‘Fast enough.’ The Freemans aren’t known to be very fast. But I just try to pick the right situations to go. I do keep myself in OK shape to run, so hopefully I can keep doing this for a little bit.”

Freddie Freeman slides in to steal second base.

Dodgers first baseman Freddie Freeman beats the tag of Tigers second baseman Andy Ibáñez to steal second base on Monday.

(Robert Gauthier / Los Angeles Times)

Stolen bases are way up this season after the size of the bases was increased and pitchers were limited to two pick-off attempts or “disengagements” per plate appearance, so Freeman figured to benefit from baseball’s new rules.

But Freeman, who takes pride in being the most well-rounded player he can be, has improved his baserunning over the years, as evidenced by his success rate (20 for 21) on stolen bases this season and his team-leading 124 runs.

“He’s scored [124] runs this year, and that speaks to the baserunning and the ability to get on base, steal second, go first to third — he’s as good as I’ve ever seen,” Roberts said. “The object of the game is to score more runs than the other team. His run production and creation is incredible.”

Freeman’s stolen base put him in position to score an insurance run on a two-out RBI single by J.D. Martinez, who hit a solo home run in the second inning and a three-run shot in the third off Tigers left-hander Eduardo Rodriguez, who invoked his no-trade clause to nix a potential deal to the Dodgers on Aug. 1.

Freeman’s decision to take off on an 0-and-2 pitch by reliever José Cisnero, who got ahead of Martinez with a pair of 96-mph fastballs, was rooted in instinct and preparation. He swiped second on an 88-mph, down-and-away cut-fastball.

“In that situation, he went heater, heater, so it’s 0-2, and [Cisnero] was 1.3 to 1.35 seconds to home plate,” Freeman said. “Two outs, and I know he wants to go for a strikeout. I figured he was gonna go a little bit slower, and I didn’t think he’d go three straight heaters to J.D. I banked on an off-speed pitch in the bottom part of the zone, and it turned out to be right.

“A lot of guys can just run every time because they’re faster. But for me, I try to pick the situations, do my work before the game with Clayton, try to do the best I can to help the team win, and stealing 90 feet sometimes is what I can do.”

Freeman entered Tuesday night’s game against the Tigers with a .335 average, .983 on-base-plus-slugging percentage, 26 homers, 196 hits, a major league-leading 55 doubles and 93 RBIs.

He is the fourth player with at least 25 homers, 50 doubles and 20 stolen bases in a season, joining Grady Sizemore (2006), Alfonso Soriano (2002) and Chuck Klein (1932). With four more hits, he will become the only first baseman in baseball history to accumulate 200 hits, 20 homers and 20 stolen bases in one season.

“Man, it’s an exclamation [point] to a tremendous season,” Roberts said. “For a first baseman to [steal 20 bases] and then potentially get 200 hits, it’s never been done. For him to reach that milestone is going to be pretty special.”

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