Rangers come up short in epic Game 6

The loudest noises — the crashing objects, the guttural screams — occur out of sight.

You could hear it all from my position next to the visiting dugout for FOX, hear the eruptions of rage as the Rangers twice blew two-run leads when they were one strike away from winning the World Series.

Those eruptions actually were minimal, though. In the dugout proper, the Rangers were still trying to win a game. Things deteriorated so quickly, then deteriorated again. Each time, manager Ron Washington said, “I kept my fightin’ shoes on.”

Still, his tension was evident.

Washington ducked away for a cigarette between innings after the Cardinals tied the score in the ninth inning. He said to no one in particular, “You’ve got to be s——- me,” after the Cardinals tied it again in the 10th.

Mostly, Washington stood with one foot on the top step, pitching coach Mike Maddux squatting beside him. Both remained composed. But yes, Washington would admit later, his heart was breaking.

“Yeah. It was,” Washington said. “But I understand how the game goes. It’s never over until you get that last out. We didn’t get the last out.”

It is the simplest thing about baseball. It is the best thing about baseball. There is no clock. The game only ends when the team that is ahead gets the final out.

By that measure, Game 6 of the 2011 World Series will go down as one of the most extraordinary games ever played.

The Cardinals, by prevailing 10-9 on David Freese’s leadoff homer in the 11th, became only the third team in Series history to win an elimination game by rallying from at least two runs behind in the ninth inning or later.

The 1986 New York Mets did it in Game 6 against the Boston Red Sox. The 1911 New York Giants did it in Game 5 against the Philadelphia Athletics.

The 2011 Cardinals did it twice Thursday night.

Joe Torre, the former Yankees manager who is now MLB’s executive vice president of baseball operations, walked into the postgame interview room at Busch Stadium and said, “This is crazy.”

Jim Edmonds, the former Cardinals great who was traded to the Padres for Freese in December 2007, strolled the corridors with his young, blond son, Landon — and announced that the little boy’s favorite player is Freese.

Rangers public-relations director John Blake shouted out injury updates in the losing clubhouse — X-rays on catcher Mike Napoli’s left ankle were negative, while right fielder Nelson Cruz had a potentially more serious injury, a strained right groin.

And inside his office, nearly an hour after the game, Washington spoke to a handful of reporters, explaining that he thought the game should have ended when Freese drove the ball to the opposite field off closer Neftali Feliz with two outs in the ninth.

The shot sailed over Cruz’s head in right for a two-run triple. Washington said it should have been caught, “for sure.”

“(Cruz) was in good position,” Washington said. “If you go look at the replay, he froze. Took off, slowed down, thought he had it.

“The ball was smashed. (But) if he takes off and gets back there like he’s supposed to when the ball was first hit, it’s an easy out.”

Cruz told reporters, “I thought I had a chance at it. It ended up over my head. I went back for it and it just kept running. It was hit really hard.”

For the Rangers, the anguish was only beginning. But for those who think they will be devastated by Thursday night’s loss, think how quickly they rallied to regain the lead.

Moments later, their dugout was electric again.

Josh Hamilton’s go-ahead, two-run homer with one out in the 10th produced the same unrestrained joy, the same shouts in English and Spanish, that followed the back-to-back homers by Adrian Beltre and Cruz in the seventh.

Those homers broke a 4-4 tie. Hamilton’s homer broke a 7-7 tie. That should have decided it, right?

As Washington noted later, the bottom half set up perfectly for Rangers left-hander Darren Oliver — two left-handed hitters, Daniel Descalso and Jon Jay, and then the pitcher’s spot.

But Descalso lined a single to right. Jay, who had been 0-for-16 in the Series until his previous at-bat, blooped one to left.

Righty Scott Feldman relieved Oliver after a sacrifice by that noted pinch-hitter, pitcher Kyle Lohse. An RBI groundout by Ryan Theriot pulled the Cardinals within one run. A single by Lance Berkman tied the score again.

As the noise at Busch swelled, Michael Young paced the Rangers’ dugout — he had been removed for a better defensive first baseman, Mitch Moreland, after the team took a 7-4 lead in the seventh.

Numb and number.

One strike away, then one strike away again.

“I probably could have had 20 heart attacks,” said left-hander Derek Holland, who stood to earn the win in relief if the Rangers had held their first lead. “It was unbelievable, going back and forth, back and forth.”

The Rangers tried to regroup for the 11th, but Cruz aggravated his injury while leading off with a flyball to right. Napoli hit a one-out single, and with two outs Washington wanted to pinch-hit catcher Yorvit Torrealba for pitcher Scott Feldman.

The Cruz injury, however, left Washington with no choice but to use Esteban German instead. The Rangers needed German to play the outfield. Torrealba was the last player remaining on their bench.

German, their last hitter of the night, grounded to second.

Moments later, it was over.

Freese hit his walk-off homer off right-hander Mark Lowe, who was making only his second appearance since Sept. 20. The Rangers retreated quietly to their clubhouse. Washington called a team meeting for the first time since June.

Fans, even reporters, find it difficult to understand how teams can rebound from losses this devastating. But they do.

“I just think it’s part of all of us,” Lowe said. “That’s why we’re professional baseball players. Most of this game is all mental. I can tell you every guy in this room will come (for Game 7) with a clean slate ready to win.”

Believe it.

Playing a 162-game season teaches players to endure. That’s how the Cardinals rallied from a 10 1/2-game deficit to win the National League wild card. That’s how the Rangers endured injuries to Hamilton, Cruz and others to win 96 games.

Game 6 is over — all of the Rangers’ blown offensive opportunities, all of their defensive mistakes, all of the craziness at the end.

What did Washington tell his team?

“I just wanted to make sure that they knew the Series was seven games long,” Washington said. “We busted our ass and they beat us. That’s the difference from giving the game away and getting beat.

“We gave ’em some runs early in the game, but when it got down to (crunch) time, we had put ourselves where we wanted to be. There’s no shame in that.”

The players seemed to understand, spouting the usual “we’ll-put-it-behind-us” clichés. Left-hander Matt Harrison will start Game 7 against a Cardinals pitcher to be determined. Washington said that all of his relievers will be available, and that he again would close with Feliz. None of the relievers threw more than 23 pitches in Game 6.

As Washington spoke inside his office, second baseman Ian Kinsler shouted, “One f—— game left!” on his way out of the clubhouse.

He sounded defiant. He sounded ready to play right then.

“We lost a game we should have won tonight,” Washington said. “That doesn’t mean we’ve got to lose the Series.”