David Freese had the grace to acknowledge how lost he had been feeling at the plate before he slammed a slider from Detroit reliever Joba Chamberlain over the fence in left-center in the eighth inning Sunday to lift the Angels to a 2-1 victory over the Tigers.
"I've taken some wonderful hacks the last three games or so. Just terrible swings," the Angels' third baseman said with a smile. "But today I put a good swing on the ball."
It was a powerful and sure swing, a common sight when he won most-valuable-player honors with St. Louis in 2011 in both the National League Championship Series and the World Series but a stroke he has displayed only rarely since the Angels acquired him and reliever Fernando Salas from the Cardinals last November for Peter Bourjos and Randal Grichuk.
Freese batted .203 in March and April and .222 in May, losing most of May to a fractured middle finger. He batted .280 in June but had five hits in 31 at-bats on this homestand — including grounding into a double play in the third inning and lining to center in the fifth inning Sunday against Detroit starter Rick Porcello — before he drove Chamberlain's 2-and-1 pitch far and deep.
The Angels' newly formidable bullpen protected that lead, allowing the team to finish 6-4 on a rugged homestand against the Seattle Mariners — a possible postseason opponent — the American League East-leading Baltimore Orioles and AL Central-leading Detroit.
"You're not kidding, that's a big swing for David," said Angels Manager Mike Scioscia.
Big enough to turn Freese's season around?
"He's still a young veteran. It's not like this guy's over the hill," Scioscia said. "But to make some adjustments sometimes, it takes the experience of maybe stubbing your toe before you can make them and David might be going through a little of that right now."
Freese was hesitant to declare this a turning point.
"I don't know," he said. "I had a few bad games here and there. I don't think of it like that."
But think of this: the Angels have been good enough to compile the second-best record in baseball without consistent production from Freese, who's batting .245 with six home runs and 34 runs batted in. Imagine what they might do if he can get comfortable and get back to his All-Star form of 2012, when he batted .293 with 20 home runs and 79 RBIs.
"We hope it's more than one swing. We hope that David Freese can finish this season swinging the bat to his capability," Scioscia said. "This guy's a much better hitter than a guy hitting .240 with a little bit of production. He missed time with broken finger, but when he finds it, he's going to make our lineup a lot deeper and we need him. So it's good to see that this afternoon and hopefully it's just the start of bigger things for David as we get through this season."
Freese's struggles can't be blamed solely on switching leagues, since his numbers dropped off last season with the Cardinals to .262 with nine home runs and 60 RBIs. He was frank enough to acknowledge that too.
"It's difficult at times but you've just got to remember it's the same game, no matter what side you're on," he said of adjusting to the AL. "Just get something out over and put a barrel on it and try and simplify it as much as you can."
When he's struggling, there's only one way out of it.
"You just slow things down," he said. "You learn a lot about yourself over the years. That's kind of the first thing you understand — it's just kind of slow it down, in the zone, up a little bit, whatever you're looking for against whatever guy, and just go from there. I was patient today. More patient than I had been the last few days.
"It's something that you've got, on a daily basis, to remind yourself — what works and kind of be patiently aggressive. That's the key for a lot of hitters in this league, to wait around, and when they get something they like, to go after it."
Freese said he sees similarities between the 2011 champion Cardinals and the current Angels, even if his numbers aren't as good as they were then.
"You have a lot of talent that can take you a long ways, but what goes on in the clubhouse is just as big. We're a family. You need that," he said. "They say that you see these guys more than your own family and that's probably true. But we love everybody in here. We're a big family and that takes you a long ways."