Late in the summer, while the Colorado Rockies were battling for a National League playoff spot, Scott Oberg wasn’t quite sure of how he would fit into the team’s stretch-run plans.
The 27-year-old Oberg, a former Tewksbury High ace, had been trudging through a very up-and-down 2017 season and was optioned to Triple-A Albuquerque in early-August. The right-handed reliever was recalled back to Colorado roughly two weeks later for presumably low-leverage situations.
Making a playoff roster didn’t look too promising with his ERA flirting with 5.90 at the time.
He had a shaky outing on Aug. 20 against Milwaukee (1ip, 2h, 2r) and didn’t see the mound for nine days after that. But when Oberg got his next chance against Detroit on Aug. 30, he made the most of it and proceeded to rack up nine straight scoreless appearances.
In the month of September, Oberg posted an ERA of 2.25 and struck out 13 in 12 innings of work to pitch his way back into playoff roster consideration. And when the time came for Rockies manager Bud Black to make the final decision, Oberg was there in the bullpen when the Rockies faced the Arizona Diamondbacks in the NL Wild Card game.
Colorado lost the one-game playoff, 11-8, but Oberg impressed in his first postseason appearance. He was inserted into the game in the second inning with his team already down 4-0, and he struck out sluggers Paul Goldschmidt and J.D. Martinez back-to-back to get out of the inning. His fastball velocity soared into the high-90s.
“That was one of those experiences that ranks right up there with my debut,” said Oberg, during a phone interview Tuesday morning. “There’s that big nervous energy and it feels much different than a regular season game. Everything felt bigger.”
Oberg, who in the offseason resides with his wife in New Jersey, just outside of Philadelphia, was certainly pleased to finish his season on a high note. He appeared in 66 games for the Rockies in 2017 and had an 0-1 record with an ERA of 4.94. He struck out 55 and walked 24 in 58.1 innings of work.
It was indeed a mixed bag for the Tewksbury native in his third season with the Rockies. But he did set career-bests in ERA, appearances and strikeouts. He only surrendered four home runs, which was down from the 10 he gave up as a rookie in 2015. He also displayed a pretty potent slider.
“I think it’s been continuous learning and growing as a pitcher and a person,” said Oberg. “Every year presents its own challenges. You know there’s always peaks and valleys. I felt I was more consistent this season, threw more first-pitch strikes, showed better command.”
In spite of all of that, he never convinced himself that he was a lock for a playoff spot.
“Baseball is a very what-have-you-done-for-me-lately sport, especially as a reliever,” said Oberg. “If I want to be that guy who can get big outs in September, I knew I needed to work on my mental game. I knew I had to attack the strike zone. I started throwing the ball better and more responsibly, and it snowballed from there. I came into a game at Arizona (on Sept. 12) in the eighth and I went back out there in the ninth. So, I said ‘OK, let’s just stay the course here and see what happens.’
“Baseball gives you the whole bag of emotions. You know the sun is going to come up the next day. It’s been a blast to fulfill a lifelong dream and make friendships with all types of guys from all types of backgrounds and travel the country.”
Back when he was at Tewksbury High, Major League Baseball wasn’t really factoring into Oberg’s thought process. He just wanted to play for a Division 1 college program, get an education, and maybe with some luck, get noticed by a scout.
He went on to UConn, where he played with fellow major leaguers George Springer and Matt Barnes. Oberg battled through psoriatic arthritis that caused severe pain in his feet and legs and Tommy John surgery that cost him a full season in 2011. Still, he showed plenty of promise during his college career by posting team-best ERAs of 1.78 and 1.94 in 2009 and 2010, and then going 5-0 with nine saves and a 0.99 ERA in 2012.
The Rockies selected Oberg in the 15th round of the 2012 draft. He remains under team control and is scheduled to be eligible for arbitration in 2019 and free agency in 2022.
“I love it out there,” said Oberg, who lives in an apartment across the street from Coors Field during the season. “The fan base is great and the whole state of Colorado is a scenic beauty. Words don’t do it justice.”
Oberg was asked if he is taking some personal time to decompress now that the season is over, or if he’ll be watching the World Series?
“I can’t not watch,” he said. “I’m not the type to go on a bunch of vacations. I go kind of stir crazy when I try to sit back and relax. I just want to get back at it.”
Oberg was then asked to forecast the World Series, which began Tuesday night between the Houston Astros and Los Angeles Dodgers, who beat out the Rockies for the NL West division title.
“I could see this thing going six or seven games easily,” he said. “Both teams have really good starting pitchers and guys who can hit the ball out of the park. They’re like mirror images.”
Follow Matt Langone on Twitter @MattLangone