— ST. LOUIS - Nobody has seen anything like Game 6. And now, we have a must-see Game 7.
Twice, the Texas Rangers were within a strike of winning their first World Series in a 51-year franchise history. But as manager Ron Washington said afterward, "it's not that easy to win a World Series, as we found out tonight.''
Cardinals manager Tony La Russa twice was ready to make a postgame goodbye salute to the hometown fans that would have come after a season-ending loss. Now, he'll be managing the first World Series Game 7 in his Hall of Fame career.
"What happened today, you had to be here to believe it,'' La Russa said.
What happened was an instant-classic game that made up in drama, excitement and big hits what it lacked in execution.
There are so many potential heroes and story lines from Game 6 and in this series — from record-setting offensive numbers to flip-flopping MVP candidates to record numbers of pitching changes — it's hard to keep them all straight.
But we have a Game 7 mostly because of Cardinals third baseman David Freese, the hometown kid whose night mirrored the expansive range of emotions flowing through Game 6 on both sides.
Out of the six-hole in the Cardinals lineup, Freese has tied a record for the most RBI in a postseason with 19. They don't get any more clutch than his three RBIs in Game 6.
A leadoff blast over the center-field wall off Mark Lowe ended a mind-blowing 10-9 Cardinals victory in 11 innings that Freese himself extended two innings earlier with a two-out, two-strike, two-run, opposite-field triple off the right-field wall against Rangers closer Neftali Feliz.
Who does that — not once, but twice?
"It's all about knowing that this is the same game as when you're 6 years old,'' Freese said. "It's just elevated on a stage, and everyone is watching. You have to keep reminding yourself you have a job to do, and you try to execute. Sometimes you don't, and sometimes you do.''
Two times, Freese did. He smashed a full-count change-up off Lowe, then watched the home run bounce onto the grass berm in center field, and "the usher trying to keep everybody off the grass, but that obviously didn't work.''
And the triple off Feliz to erase a 7-5 deficit? It came on a fastball — the same pitch he had swung through previously.
"That's a home run in Texas for sure, and in 99 percent of the ballparks, that's a walk-off,'' Cardinals outfielder Lance Berkman said. "(Freese) just went out and did it later.''
Berkman played no small part in things. His two-run homer gave St. Louis a 2-1 lead in the first inning, he scored three other runs, and with two outs and two strikes in the bottom of the 10th, Berkman flared a single to center for an RBI single that tied the game at nine — and made the Cardinals the first team in World Series history to tie games with two-run rallies in both the ninth and 10th innings.
"I actually felt pretty good about it because I figured I was in a no-lose situation,'' Berkman said. "If you don't come through, it's over with, and they might talk about it for a couple days.
"If you come through, it's the greatest, and plus you've built a little bank account of being able to come through, so that if I don't come through tomorrow, I can be like, 'well, I came through in Game 6, what do you want from me?''
What everybody wants is this series to keep going. Can we extend it to a best-of-nine by any chance? We'll have to settle for the 37th time — and the first since 2002 — the series has gone seven games.
In case you're wondering, the home team has won only 19 of the previous 36 Game 7s. But holding up this series to past results and conventional wisdom is folly. This one has been uniquely bizarre.
Freese dropped a routine popup in the top of the fifth inning, and that runner ended up scoring. "I felt like I was part of a circus out there,'' he said. But he ended the night a hero.
Think about it: Josh Hamilton hit a dramatic two-run homer in the top of the 10th that you thought would be the game-winner — and how great of a comeback story would that have been. But no.
And how about the back-to-back blasts by Adrian Beltre and Nelson Cruz in the seventh that broke a 5-5 tie? Just long footnotes now.
The Cardinals committed three errors — their most in a series game since 1943. The Rangers made two of their own, bringing their series total to eight.
That's nothing compared to the pitching changes — 71 in this postseason by the Cardinals and 65 by the Rangers — the two highest number of changes by teams in postseason history.
La Russa made so many moves in Game 6, he ran out of position players in the 10th inning, but it didn't hurt him. He had starting pitcher Kyle Lohse pinch hit and execute a crucial sacrifice bunt that advanced runners to second and third.
Who pitches tonight? La Russa wasn't giving away whether he'll send ace Chris Carpenter back out there on three days rest, but it's being reported that he will.
Expect that report to be true, even if the Cardinals ace only has a few innings in him, as this will be a Johnny Wholestaff game — all arms ready — if there ever was one. The Rangers will start Matt Harrison, and ran out eight pitchers in Game 6, including Derek Holland for two innings.
Position players on both sides are hurting: Hamilton (sports hernia) and Mike Napoli (rolled ankle) will be in the lineup, while Cruz is questionable after straining a groin muscle and leaving Game 6. St. Louis' Matt Holliday severely bruised a finger as he got picked off third base in an inexcusable sixth-inning mistake.
And if you don't think the Rangers can recover from such a crushing defeat, remember this: It's been that way this entire series. After a 2-1 loss in Game 2, St. Louis went to Arlington and laid a 16-7 whooping on Texas. The Rangers turned it around with a 4-0 win the next night behind Holland. And the Cardinals Game 6 win came after La Russa's bullpen-phone gaffes and Albert Pujols' botched hit-and-run call.
It all will be over sometime late Friday — we think. But as Berkman warned:
"By the way, when you're a little kid, and you're out there (in your backyard, imagining being a World Series hero), you don't have a bunch of reporters and fans ready to call you a choking dog if you don't come through.
"So when you're a kid, you don't realize what a big moment this is. I'm just going to caution all little kids out there, be careful what you wish for.''