The St. Louis Cardinals celebrate after Texas Rangers' David Murphy flies out to end Game 7 of baseball's World Series Friday, Oct. 28, 2011, in St. Louis. The Cardinals won 6-2 to win the series. — Photo by The Associated Press
ST. LOUIS — Albert Pujols thrust both arms high in the air, even before he reached home plate.
It was only the first inning, and already it felt as if the St. Louis Cardinals were home free. Because after they had overcome so much just to get this far, what could stop them?
The Cardinals won a remarkable World Series they weren’t even supposed to reach, beating the Texas Rangers 6-2 in Game 7 on Friday night with another key hit by hometown star David Freese and six gutty innings from Chris Carpenter.
Pushed to the brink, the Cardinals kept saving themselves. A frantic rush to reach the post-season on the final day. A nifty pair of comebacks in the playoffs. Two desperate rallies in Game 6.
“This whole ride, this team deserves this,” said Freese, who added the Series MVP award to his trophy as the NL championship MVP.
A day after an epic game that saw them twice within one strike of elimination before winning 10-9 in 11 innings, the Cardinals captured their 11th World Series crown.
“It’s hard to explain how this happened,” Cardinals manager Tony La Russa said.
After surging from 10 1/2 games down in the wild-card race late in the season, La Russa’s team didn’t dare mess with Texas, or any more drama in baseball’s first World Series Game 7 since the Angels beat Giants in 2002.
Freese’s two-run double tied it in the first, with Pujols celebrating as he scored. Good-luck charm Allen Craig hit a go-ahead homer in the third.
Given a chance to pitch by a Game 6 rainout and picked by La Russa earlier in the day to start on three days’ rest, Carpenter and the tireless St. Louis bullpen closed it out.
No Rally Squirrel needed on this night, either. Fireworks and confetti rang out at Busch Stadium when Jason Motte retired David Murphy on a fly ball to end it.
“We just kept playing,” Cardinals star Lance Berkman said.
Said La Russa: “If you watch the history of baseball, teams come back.”
The Rangers, meanwhile, will spend the whole winter wondering how it all got away. Texas might dwell on it forever, in fact, or at least until Nolan Ryan & Co. can reverse a World Series slide that started with last year’s five-game wipeout against San Francisco.
“We were close. Two times. Game 6. That’s it,” Texas pitcher Colby Lewis said.
Ryan left tightlipped. When a reporter tried to ask the Rangers president and part-owner a question, someone in his entourage said: “He’s not talking.”
Texas had not lost consecutive games since last August. These two defeats at Busch Stadium cost manager Ron Washington and the Rangers a chance to win their first title in the franchise’s 51-year history.
Instead, Texas became the first team to lose the Series two straight years since Atlanta in 1991-92.
“Sometimes when opportunity is in your presence, you certainly can’t let it get away because sometimes it takes a while before it comes back,” Washington said. “If there’s one thing that happened in this World Series that I’ll look back on is being so close, just having one pitch to be made and one out to be gotten, and it could have been a different story.”
Added Texas third baseman Adrian Beltre: “We tried to come back today, but the momentum just took them.”
“It’s not a nice feeling, you know, being one strike away twice. I guess it’s probably easier to lose four games in a row in a World Series, but being a strike away it’s something that will be hard to forget,” he said.
This marked the ninth straight time the home team had won Game 7 in the World Series. The wild-card Cardinals held that advantage over the AL West champions because the NL won the all-star game — Texas could blame that on their own pitcher, C.J. Wilson, who took the loss in July.
A year full of inspiring rallies and epic collapses was encapsulated in Game 6. Freese was the star, with a tying triple in the ninth and a winning home run in the 11th. His two RBIs in the clincher gave him a post-season record 21.
The Cardinals won their first championship since 2006, and gave La Russa his third World Series title. They got there by beating Philadelphia in the first round of the NL playoffs, capped by Carpenter outduelling former Toronto Blue Jays teammate Roy Halladay 1-0 in the deciding Game 5, and then topping Milwaukee in the NL championship series.
“I think the last month of the season, that’s where it started,” Pujols said. “Different guys were coming huge, getting big hits, and we carried that into the post-season and here we are, world champions.”
By the time Yadier Molina drew a bases-loaded walk from starter Matt Harrison and Rafael Furcal was hit by a pitch from Wilson in relief, the crowd began to sense a championship was near.
The Cardinals improved to 8-3 in Game 7s of the Series, more wins than any other club. Yet fans here know their history well, and were aware this game could go either way — Dizzy Dean and the Gas House Gang won 11-0 in 1934, but Whitey Herzog and his Cardinals lost 11-0 in 1985.
On this evening, all the stars aligned for St. Louis.
Starting in place of injured Matt Holliday, Craig hit his third homer of the Series and made a leaping catch at the top of the left field wall. Molina made another strong throw to nail a stray runner. And Carpenter steeled himself to pitch into the seventh, every bit an ace.
“It was in our grasp and we didn’t get it,” Washington said, referring to Game 6. “Tonight we fought hard for it and the Cardinals got it.”