By the time David Freese stomped on home plate Game 6 had already been stamped among the greatest thrillers in baseball history.
Twice down to their last strike, the St. Louis Cardinals somehow rallied.
And when Freese completed a startling series of comebacks with a leadoff home run in the bottom of the 11th inning to beat Texas 10-9 on Thursday night, fans all over got ready to enjoy something they hadn’t seen in a long time: Game 7 of the World Series.
”You had to be here to believe it,” Cardinals manager Tony La Russa said.
It was as great a game as the sport has ever witnessed, rivaling the Carlton Fisk homer in Game 6 of the 1975 Series and Bill Buckner’s error in Game 6 of the 1986 Series.
Freese saved St. Louis with a two-strike, two-out, two-run triple off Rangers closer Neftali Feliz that tied it in the ninth. In the 10th, after Josh Hamilton had homered to give Texas a two-run lead, Lance Berkman’s two-strike, two-out single made it 9-all.
To Freese, who grew up in the St. Louis area, it all reminded him of a game-ending home run Jim Edmonds hit in the 2004 playoffs.
”Growing up or whatever, and you see stuff like that happen, those become memories,” Freese said.
Great, that is, except for Texas. The Rangers were that close to winning their first championship.
”I understand it’s not over till you get that last out,” Texas manager Ron Washington said. ”I was just sitting there praying we got that last out. We didn’t get it.”
This was just the third time that a team one out from elimination in the World Series came back to win the game, according to STATS LLC. The New York Mets did it with Buckner’s mistake and wound up winning the championship. In 1911, the New York Giants rallied past the Philadelphia A’s in Game 5, but lost the next game.
Next up on Friday night, the first Game 7 in the World Series since the Angels beat San Francisco in 2002.
After it was over, La Russa wasn’t willing to announce his starter for Game 7 — many believe it will be ace Chris Carpenter on three days’ rest. Matt Harrison is set to start for Texas.
Home teams have won the last eight Game 7s in the World Series, a streak that started with the Cardinals beating Milwaukee in 1982.
”There is tomorrow, now, for us,” Cardinals star Albert Pujols said.
Freese had already written himself into St. Louis lore with tying the triple.
”Initially I was like `Are you kidding me? My first AB off Feliz in this situation ever,”’ Freese said. ”I just beared down, got a pitch to hit. Initially I thought I hit it pretty good, I thought (right fielder Nelson Cruz) was going to grab it, so just a lot of emotions on that one.”
After the banged-up Hamilton’s two-run homer in the 10th, St. Louis again tied it when Berkman hit a two-out single on a 2-2 pitch from Scott Feldman.
”I was one strike away,” Feldman said. ”That pitch there, I didn’t quite get it in enough and he was able to get enough of the bat on it to knock it into center field.”
Busch Stadium was still in frenzy when Freese opened the 11th with a leadoff shot over the center field wall off Mark Lowe. Freese thrust his arm in the air as he rounded first base, and the crowd was delirious.
”Just an incredible feeling, seeing all my teammates at the dish waiting for me,” said Freese, whose shirt was torn off during the celebration.
Texas trudged off the field as Freese circled the bases, having been so close to that elusive title. Much earlier, team president Nolan Ryan was high-fiving friends in the stands as Adrian Beltre and Nelson Cruz opened the seventh with home runs that helped Texas take a 7-4 lead.
”I’m not going to lose any sleep over it,” Hamilton said. ”We’re just going to do everything we can to prepare. Guys are already talking about it. We’re ready for Game 7. Shake it off and come back tomorrow. That’s just our mentality. But it goes both ways. Seems like they had that mentality. too.”
Allen Craig’s solo homer in the eighth began the Cardinals’ comeback. Jake Westbrook wound up with the win.
Hardly the ending anyone imagined in a game that started out with a bevy of errors and bobbles — none more surprising than the routine popup that Freese simply dropped at third base.
”I’m just glad I had a chance after I looked like an idiot on that popup,” Freese said.
The Cardinals made it 4-all in the sixth when Alexi Ogando relieved starter Colby Lewis and walked Yadier Molina with the bases loaded.
Then came a key play — Napoli and Beltre teamed up to pick off Matt Holliday at third with the bases loaded.
With one out, Napoli zipped a throw to Beltre, who neatly used his cleat to block the diving Holliday from reaching the base. That also ended Holliday’s night with a severely bruised right pinkie.
Texas wasn’t quite out of trouble as Nick Punto walked to reload the bases. But Derek Holland, the star of Game 4 with shutout ball into the ninth inning, trotted in from the bullpen and retired Jon Jay on a comebacker.
Texas and St. Louis seemed tense early, as if they were trying too hard with so much at stake. Either that, or they looked like they were playing in the sloppy weather that forced Wednesday night’s postponement.
Exacerbated by the errors, the teams seesawed through the early innings.
Texas did more damage in three batters against Jaime Garcia than it did in seven scoreless innings against him in Game 2, with Hamilton hitting an RBI single in the first.
St. Louis came out swinging at first pitches, and Berkman’s two-run homer into the center field bleachers made it 2-1 in the bottom half. Ian Kinsler tied it in the Texas second with an RBI double. Garcia was pulled after the third in his shortest outing since June 2010.
Shaky in the field all year, St. Louis made two errors in a span of four batters in the fourth behind reliever Fernando Salas, equaling its mistake total for the Series.
The misplays continued in the Cards fourth when first baseman Michael Young made an errant throw to Lewis covering the base, letting Berkman reach. Molina’s RBI grounder made it 3-all.
The next botch was Freese’s drop and Young took advantage with an RBI double for a 4-3 lead.
NOTES: Texas was 0 for 11 with two outs and runners in scoring position in the Series until Kinsler’s double. … Berkman hit his first Series home run. He was moved up a spot to cleanup for this game. … David Eckstein, MVP of the 2006 Series for St. Louis, threw out the first ball. … 90-year-old Hall of Famer Stan Musial rode in on a golf cart during pregame festivities. … The crowd of 47,325 was a record for 6-year-old Busch Stadium.