By Kevin Baxter/Los Angeles Times (MCT)
ST. LOUIS — St. Louis Cardinals Manager Tony La Russa probably summed it up best.
“You had to be here to believe it,” he said.
But even after seeing St. Louis rally three times in the final three innings to deny the Texas Rangers a World Series title Thursday, it was still hard to believe.
David Freese’s leadoff home run in the 11th inning provided the deciding run in the Cardinals’ 10-9 victory, forcing the exhausted teams to return to Busch Stadium on Friday for a decisive game.
Yet while that one swing may have won the game it was the Cardinals’ grit and heart that made the swing count.
Twice St. Louis was a strike away from their winter vacation — but both times they came back.
“We never quit trying,” La Russa said. “I know that’s kind of corny but the fact is we never quit trying.
“The dugout was alive even when we were behind. And sometimes it works.”
It has more than once in a postseason that has sent records for drama and excitement. And how could anyone have expected the World Series would end without it first writing one last thrilling chapter?
In a 4-hour, 33-minute game that featured more back and forth than a Republic presidential debate, the Rangers took the lead five times, only to see the Cardinals come back in each instance against a fatigued Texas bullpen.
And the comebacks got more dramatic as the game went on.
In the ninth Ranger closer Neftali Feliz had a 7-5 lead and two strikes on Freese when the Cardinal third baseman lined a triple over the head of right fielder Nelson Cruz — who misjudged the ball — to score two runs.
And then after Josh Hamilton’s two-run homer in the 10th gave Texas its two-run lead back, the Cardinals rallied again, tying the game on Ryan Theriot’s run-scoring ground out and Lance Berkman’s two-strike single to right-center.
That once again set the stage for Freese, who worked the count full leading off the 11th before lining a Mark Lowe on to the grass berm beyond the center-field wall.
“Growing up you see stuff like that happen, those become memories,” Freese said. “I’ve said it time and time again as far as being a part of this comeback, but it wouldn’t be as sweet if this group of guys weren’t with me.
“This is cool to have this group doing this kind of stuff.”
By then the game’s early heroics — which included a two-run home run from Berkman, three hits from Hamilton, two runs batted in from Texas’ Ian Kinsler and St. Louis Yadier Molina, two runs and three walks from Ranger catcher Mike Napoli and back-to-back homers from Texas’ Adrian Beltre and Nelson Cruz — had largely been forgotten.
Albert Pujols started the Cardinals’ ninth-inning rally with a one-out double to the wall in left-center. After Berkman walked and Craig struck out, Freese lined a shot to right that Cruz seemed to have a bead on before leaping awkwardly a step short of the wall as the ball bounced a foot or two to his left, scoring both runners.
Hamilton then gave the Rangers their two-run lead back, following Elvis Andrus’ one-out single with a homer off Cardinal closer Jason Motte.
Once again, however, the lead didn’t last with St. Louis rallying on two singles, a sacrifice, a run-scoring groundout and then, after an intentional walk to Pujols, Berkman’s run-scoring hit.
“I don’t think this is fun,” Berkman said afterward. “I mean obviously it’s fun when you win. It’s not fun to go up there with a season on the line.
“But the experience is incredible.”
Incredible also describes the feeling in the Cardinal dugout when Freese won it an inning later setting up a decisive Game 7 in which Texas is left with little more than left-hander Matt Harrison, who hasn’t gotten past the fifth inning in three postseason starters.
The Cardinals, meanwhile, are expected to start ace Chris Carpenter, who got an extra days’ rest courtesy of Wednesday’s rainout and can now pitch on three days’ rest.
“It just wasn’t meant to happen tonight,” Texas Manager Ron Washington said wearily. “So we’ve just got come back tomorrow and fight just as hard because they certainly will.”