ST. LOUIS – This was sloppy baseball on a crisp night. Thoroughly thrilling, breathtaking, dramatic, sloppy baseball. Marred by errors, errant pitches and mental mistakes, Game 6 of the World Series was not a purist's delight. Yet it will forever be remembered as one of the most exciting games in history, a classic, the details of which will be recounted around dinner tables for years.
And they aren't done yet.
David Freese(notes), who grew up in a St. Louis suburb and returned to baseball after quitting before college, hit a home run in the bottom of the 11th inning to give the Cardinals a 10-9 victory over the Texas Rangers and force a Game 7 in the World Series for the first time since 2002.
The Cardinals were down to their last strike in the ninth and tied the score on a two-run triple by the very same Freese. They were down by two runs in the 10th and extended the game with another rally after being down to their last strike. And despite a boatload of errors and oddities, somehow they survived, depriving the Rangers of celebrating the first series championship in their 51-year history.
At least for one more day.
"We just kept battling, that defines our team," Freese said. "It's incredible to be part of this."
It wasn't as if the Rangers didn't have heroics of their own. Josh Hamilton(notes), hobbled throughout the postseason by a pulled groin, summoned the strength to belt a two-run home run in the 10th inning, giving the Texas Rangers a temporary 9-7 lead.
"We battled," Rangers manager Ron Washington said. "It's not that easy to win a world championship, as we found out tonight. Give them credit. They fought. They won the ballgame. We'll bounce back tomorrow. We have always responded."
[World Series slideshow: Check out photos from thrilling Game 6]
Freese's ninth-inning hit came against Rangers closer Neftali Feliz(notes), so the bottom of the 10th was left to 41-year-old left-handed reliever Darren Oliver(notes). And nothing was easy. Two base hits and a bunt later, Oliver was replaced by right-hander Scott Feldman(notes). Ryan Theriot(notes) brought Daniel Descalso home with a groundout and the Rangers elected to walk Albert Pujols intentionally.
"You had to be here to believe it," Cardinals manager Tony La Russa said. "The dugout was alive even when we were behind."
For Freese, it's a long way from the maintenance department of the Rockwood, Mo., School District. That's where he worked the summer after he batted .533 for Lafayette High. He felt burned out by baseball and wasn't sure he wanted to play again.
Nothing like a summer of manual labor to appreciate the game. Freese played at a local junior college then at South Alabama and was drafted by the San Diego Padres in 2006. The Cardinals acquired him in a trade for Jim Edmonds(notes) two years later and after a strong year in Triple-A, Freese was the opening day third baseman in 2009.
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But he needed surgery in June on his foot to repair damage suffered in a single-car accident the previous January and played in only 17 big league games. The next year he had a severe ankle injury, then fractured a big toe when a 75-pound weight dropped on his left foot. Again this season he was injured, breaking his hand and missing 51 games.
But he'd proven enough with his bat and glove that when he was finally healthy, his job was waiting.
Freese broke out in the National League Championship Series, winning the MVP award after batting .545 with three home runs against the Milwaukee Brewers. None of it – the ups, downs and in-betweens – could compare to what unfolded Thursday night.
"It's the same game as when you were six years old," Freese said. "You just try to execute. It's that simple."
For so long it was the Rangers' game to lose. Back-to-back home runs by Adrian Beltre(notes) and Nelson Cruz(notes) to lead off the seventh inning turned a 4-4 tie into a cushion. The Rangers added another run in the inning, then gave it back on a solo homer in the eighth by the Cardinals' Allen Craig(notes).
"Back and forth, the game started out sloppy, so many mistakes, then it turned into something we'll never forget," Berkman said. He smiled: "Actually, maybe now we can forget all those mistakes."
All right. Then forgotten were Ranger first baseman Michael Young's(notes) two errors, shortstop Elvis Andrus'(notes) mental mistake in the eighth and reliever Alexi Ogando's(notes) inability to throw a strike.
Forgotten were the pop fly dropped by Freese, the flyball flubbed by Cardinals left fielder Matt Holliday(notes) and Holliday getting picked off third by catcher Mike Napoli(notes) with the bases loaded in the sixth.
"It was like a circus, the ball dropping on top of my head," Freese said. "You just have to forget those things and play the game."
There were five errors, three by the Cardinals, two by the Rangers. And many more mental mistakes. What for five games had been a tightly played series packed with record performances, unlikely heroes and intriguing managerial strategy devolved into dropped balls, errant throws, and jags of wildness.
Temperatures had plunged to 40 degrees one night after rain had caused the game to be postponed a day. It was the first two-day break in the series since 1989 when the San Francisco earthquake forced an 11-day postponement and was the coldest series game since Game 1 of the 1979 series at Baltimore.
A cluster of errors and misplays marred the middle innings. A sampling:
Bottom of the sixth: Young dropped the ball trying to throw to second after fielding Holliday's ground ball with a runner on first. The next three batters walked – the first by starter Colby Lewis(notes), the next two by perpetually disappointing Ogando – and one run scored. The rally was blunted when Holliday was picked off third by catcher Napoli for the second out, an inexcusable mistake by Holliday, who bruised a pinky finger diving back to the bag and exited the game. Score tied 4-4.
Top of the fifth: Freese nonchalantly dropped Josh Hamilton's pop fly to begin the inning. Every Little League coach watching from home grabbed his head and screamed, "Use two hands!" Young followed immediately with a double. With two out and two on, Washington used his best pinch-hitter, David Murphy(notes), to bat for center fielder Craig Gentry(notes). Murphy walked to load the bases. But instead of using another pinch-hitter (Mitch Moreland(notes), anybody?), Washington let Lewis bat, and he struck out. Rangers led 4-3.
Top of the fourth: Cruz led off with a pop fly that neither Cardinals left fielder Matt Holliday nor shortstop Rafael Furcal(notes) called, and it clanked off Holliday's glove for a two-base error. Napoli promptly singled inside the first-base bag to score Cruz. Later in the inning, reliever Fernando Salas(notes) made a throwing error trying to get the lead runner at second on a bunt but pitched out of the jam. Rangers led 3-2.
Bottom of the fourth: Young, the first baseman, fumbled a ground ball by Berkman to begin the inning. After Holliday walked, Lewis induced Freese to hit a double-play ground ball to second. But Holliday slid hard into shortstop Elvis Andrus, who made a poor throw to first, leaving runners at the corners with one out. Yadier Molina(notes) grounded out, but instead of it ending the inning, Berkman dashed home. Score tied 3-3.
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"You grow up with that scenario, thinking about playing in a World Series," Freese said. "When you see that stuff happen watching games when you are growing up, those become memories. This is cool to have with this group."
The most enduring memories will come Friday. And it remains to be seen whether they belong to the Cardinals or Rangers.
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