Cardinals 12, Brewers 6

Left behind in the postseason race, the St. Louis Cardinals

decided that they’d focus on small goals in September. Now, the

ultimate one is within reach.

The Cardinals’ wild ride is headed to the World Series.

”It’s kind of surreal that we’re here,” said third baseman

David Freese, who took MVP honors in the series. ”But this team

deserves what we’ve been rewarded.”

Freese hit a three-run homer in the first inning and manager

Tony La Russa again turned to his brilliant bullpen for seven

sturdy innings as St. Louis captured its 18th pennant with a 12-6

victory over the Milwaukee Brewers on Sunday night.

”For two weeks in August we started mugging games left and

right and we had to say, hey, look, unless we go about this better,

we’re going to ruin everything we accomplished as far as respect,”

La Russa said. ”And we started winning a little bit. And literally

played every game like it was the last game of our life.”

Trailing by 10 1/2 games in the wild-card race on Aug. 25, the

Cardinals surged down the stretch and took advantage of a

monumental collapse by Atlanta to win a playoff spot on the final

night of the regular season.

In a twist of fate, it was Philadelphia that helped them get in

by completing a three-game sweep of the Braves.

Once in the postseason, Albert Pujols and the Cardinals took out

the heavily favored Phillies in the first round, then dispatched

the division-rival Brewers on their own turf in Game 6 of the NL

championship series.

”I mean, you could have never known,” Pujols said.

Freese, often overlooked in a lineup anchored by All-Stars,

batted .545 with three homers and nine RBIs in the series.

Looking for its second title in six seasons, St. Louis opens the

World Series at home Wednesday night with ace Chris Carpenter on

the mound against the AL champion Texas Rangers.

It’s been such a frenetic run, it seems fitting that a squirrel

has become the team’s unofficial mascot.

The rally squirrel started in the division series against

Philadelphia when the furry rodent scampered across home plate

during Game 4. Another squirrel was on the field before Game 5 when

Carpenter shut out the Phillies.

Reliever Octavio Dotel carries a small, stuffed squirrel with

him after a Philadelphia fan tossed it to him in jest, a tangible

sign of where the Cardinals have come from.

”I lay in my bed thinking, ‘Wow, we are in this position.’ I

cannot believe it personally. I can’t believe where we are after

the way we played the last month, and the way Atlanta played,”

Dotel said. ”It’s crazy to be where we are right now. I don’t know

how to explain that to you. The only thing I know is we’re here and

we’re looking forward to keep winning games.”

Bolstered by a group of no-name relievers who keep answering La

Russa’s call, the Cardinals are back in the World Series for the

first time since beating Detroit in 2006.

”We had a lot of adversity, but we found a way,” Cardinals

left fielder Matt Holliday said.

It was a disappointing end to a scintillating season for Prince

Fielder, Ryan Braun and the NL Central champion Brewers, who

finished with a franchise-record 96 wins, six games ahead of St.

Louis in the division.

Baseball’s best home team collapsed in the NLCS, though, losing

twice at Miller Park in an error-filled flop. It was likely

Fielder’s final game with the Brewers, too. He can become a free

agent after the season.

”I had to clear the throat once, but it was all right. I love

these guys,” said Fielder, a first-round draft pick in 2002.

”I’ve been playing with most of them since I was 18. So this

organization has been great to me.”

Rafael Furcal and Pujols hit solo homers off Chris Narveson and

St. Louis built a 9-4 lead by the time the bullpen took over for

Edwin Jackson in the third inning.

The group of Fernando Salas, Marc Rzepczynski, Dotel, Lance Lynn

and Jason Motte allowed two runs the rest of the way. For the

series, St. Louis relievers finished 3-0 with a 1.88 ERA over 28

2-3 innings.

The most lasting image of this NLCS has been La Russa on the

bullpen phone.

”He’s a genius, isn’t he?” said Motte, the fifth closer this

year for the Cardinals.

St. Louis built an 11-5 lead before the biggest scare came when

Pujols was shaken up after tagging out Braun in the fifth inning.

The three-time MVP fell hard on his right forearm on a close play

at first base.

”I got spiked. I didn’t feel too good but as long as I can walk

I’m playing in that game,” Pujols said. ”It’s the postseason.

Nothing hurts. You don’t think about it. You think about making a

play. If you got hurt, hey at least you got hurt trying something


The Cardinals took control of this series beginning in Game 2 by

jumping out to early leads and letting the bullpen lead the


La Russa called on his relievers 28 times in the NLCS and

Jackson’s start was the shortest of the postseason for the

rotation, which finished the NLCS with a 7.66 ERA. St. Louis became

the first team to win a postseason series without a starter

reaching the sixth inning, according to STATS LLC.

Freese gave his teammates credit while accepting the MVP


”I wish we could make eight or nine of these and give them to

our bullpen. They’re the reason why we won this series,” he


Corey Hart, Rickie Weeks and Jonathan Lucroy all homered for the

Brewers, who won a major league-best 57 home games at Miller Park

this season and four straight in the postseason before losing Game

2 to the Cardinals.

The Brewers’ biggest hitters – Braun, Fielder and Weeks –

finished 1 for 12 in Game 6. Fielder, the All-Star game MVP and the

reason St. Louis will start at home on Wednesday, received a

standing ovation in his final at-bat in the eighth. He grounded out

and slowly walked back to the dugout with his head down.

”Obviously I envisioned us winning the World Series, but that

didn’t happen,” Fielder said. ”We had a great year as a team.

Unfortunately we didn’t get to where we wanted to go. But still

some great moments and great memories in there. Like I said, this

year has been awesome.”

It was the two ugly defensive performances that will likely

linger for Milwaukee, which committed four errors in a 7-1 loss in

Game 5 and added three more in Game 6.

”You can’t get away with mistakes to them and we made way too

many mistakes,” manager Ron Roenicke said.

Struggling starter Shaun Marcum never really gave Milwaukee a

chance and was hurt by defensive plays that weren’t ruled


In the first, Jon Jay singled with one out and stole second when

Weeks couldn’t hold onto Lucroy’s low throw. Marcum believed he had

strike three on Pujols, who ended up walking.

Lance Berkman singled for the second hit in 18 career at-bats

against Marcum to drive in the first run, and center fielder Nyjer

Morgan made an ill-advised throw to third that let Berkman reach


Marcum saved a run by grabbing Holliday’s dribbler and flipping

it out of his glove to Lucroy to get Pujols at the plate, but

Freese homered on the next pitch to make it 4-0 and extend his

postseason hitting streak to 10 games.

”We believe, Freese said. ”I think that’s what you’ve got to

do in this game. We got a group of guys with some talent, desire,

and just a ton of heart.”