ST. LOUIS — Twice down to their last strike, the St. Louis Cardinals kept rallying to win one of baseball’s greatest thrillers.
David Freese completed a startling night of comebacks with a home run leading off the bottom of the 11th inning to beat Texas 10-9 on Thursday, and suddenly fans all over got something they have waited a long time to see: Game 7 in the World Series.
“You had to be here to believe it,” Cardinals manager Tony La Russa said.
It was as great a game as baseball 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.
Great, that is, except for Texas. The Rangers were that close to 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.”
Next up on Friday night, the first Game 7 in the World Series since the Angels beat San Francisco in 2002.
Freese, the hometown boy who made good, had already written himself into St. Louis lore in Game 6 with a two-strike, two-out, two-run triple in the ninth off Rangers closer Neftali Feliz that made it 7-all.
“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 banged-up Josh Hamilton hit a two-run homer in the Texas 10th, St. Louis again tied it when Lance Berkman hit a two-out single on a 2-2 pitch from Scott Feldman.
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.
A night that started off terribly for both teams turned terrific for everyone watching.
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.
Texas trudged off the field as Freese circled the bases after connecting off Lowe, 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.
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.
The Rangers looked loose as they took the field for pregame warmups. Cruz playfully kicked a couple of Cardinals gloves strewn on the grass, and smiled at his St. Louis pals.
Once they started, however, both Texas and St. Louis seemed tense, 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.
Holliday failed to take charge on an easy fly ball by Cruz and dropped it for a two-base error. Napoli followed with an opposite-field single to right that hit the chalk line for his 10th RBI of the Series. Salas then sailed Lewis’ bunt into center and Napoli turned his left ankle as he went leg into the bag on the play. Napoli was checked, and was OK.
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 belonged to St. Louis. Hamilton lifted a major league popup in the fifth that started foul, drifted fair and was dropped by Freese. 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.