ST. LOUIS -- Don't turn out the lights just yet. The 2011 Cardinals live to fight one more day, one last day. As though it could have been any other way.
Channeling the man for whom he was once traded, David Freese hit an 11th-inning leadoff, walk-off home run to give the Cardinals a jaw-dropping, heart-stopping 10-9 win over the Rangers in Game 6 of the World Series on Thursday night. The win forced an appropriate seventh game in one of the most entertaining and memorable Fall Classics in recent memory.
The Cardinals trailed five times in the game, including by two runs in the ninth and again in the 10th. They were down to their last strike twice, including once against Texas' flame-throwing closer, Neftali Feliz. But an irrepressible club kept coming back, and back, and back.
"It's just an exhilarating feeling," said Lance Berkman, who had the tying hit in the 10th. "You're like Lazarus. You're back from the dead."
Winning Games 6 and 7
Freese's homer, to straightaway center, recalled Jim Edmonds' 12th-inning walk-off shot in Game 6 of the 2004 National League Championship Series against Houston, which also forced a seventh game in an epic series. And Freese's blast sent a packed Busch Stadium into absolute delirium. The hometown boy also had the big hit in the ninth, a two-out triple off Feliz that sent the game into extras in the first place.
"We had some good ABs and we tied it up and just kept battling," Freese said. "That defines our team, that game, the way we just kept coming back. We've been doing that for a long time. ... It's incredible to be a part of this."
The win means that the World Series will go to a seventh game for the first time since 2002. It's the 11th World Series Game 7 in Cardinals franchise history, and they've gone 7-3 in the previous occurrences. Of the last 13 Major League teams that won Game 6 at home to force a Game 7, 12 went on to win Game 7. The one exception is the 2006 Mets, who lost to the Cardinals in the NLCS.
The Cardinals overcame one of their sloppiest games of the year for maybe their most improbable win. They committed three errors plus a costly wild pitch, lost a runner on a critical pickoff and had trouble for much of the night turning baserunners into runs. But after repeatedly getting down to their final turn at bat, they simply would not die.
"What happened today, I just think it's -- you had to be here to believe it," Cardinals manager Tony La Russa said. "We never quit trying. 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."
Texas didn't play much more sharply in the early going, truth be told. But 15 hits, including three home runs, made up for a number of Rangers mistakes and had the visitors one strike away from the first world title in franchise history -- twice.
"This game was crazy," said Texas lefty Darren Oliver. "So many highs and lows. It was definitely tough to watch at times, but the bottom line is we got beat and they battled us to the last out."
The Rangers had seemed to salt the game away with a three-run seventh to take a 7-4 lead, and again with two in the top of the 10th. Back-to-back homers by Adrian Beltre and Nelson Cruz, followed by two singles and a wild pitch, had put Texas in command with nine outs to go. Allen Craig's solo homer in the eighth gave St. Louis life, but the Cards left the bases loaded in what appeared to be a costly miss.
They tied it in the ninth on Freese's two-out, two-run triple. Albert Pujols hit a one-out double and Berkman walked. After Craig struck out, Freese lined a ball to the wall in right that Cruz could not track down. Yadier Molina lined out, but the Cardinals had kept their season alive.
And then it appeared it was dead again when Josh Hamilton hit a go-ahead two-run homer in the 10th. Still the Cardinals would not go away. Daniel Descalso, who had pinch-hit two innings earlier, started another season-saving rally with a leadoff single. Jon Jay blooped a single to left field, bringing up the pitcher's spot.
Kyle Lohse, pinch-hitting for closer Jason Motte, bunted the runners over to bring up Ryan Theriot, whose groundout to third base made it a one-run game. The Rangers walked Pujols intentionally to bring up Berkman, and finally the Cards made Texas pay for the free pass when Berkman singled home the tying run.
"I mean, it's just special, it's hard to describe," Berkman said. "I've played in several pretty good postseason games, but this one takes the cake. I think you had a little bit of everything. I'm just glad to be part of it."
From start to finish, this was simply one of the strangest World Series games in memory. Berkman's two-run homer gave St. Louis an early 2-1 lead, but the Rangers tied it in the next half-inning. A Matt Holliday error on an eminently catchable ball in short left field opened the fourth and led to a go-ahead run, but an error by Rangers first baseman Michael Young put St. Louis in position to tie in the bottom of the fourth.
And so it went. Freese dropped a seemingly easy popup at third to open the fifth, and Young doubled in the run that made it 4-3, Texas. The Cards tied it thanks to an infield hit, an error and three straight walks, but could get no more. Holliday was picked off third base for the second out, throwing a major wrench in a potential big inning.
By the late going, though, the earlier follies were all but forgotten. An occasionally comic game had turned into a classic. And an occasionally maddening team had put itself in position to win the World Series.
"There is tomorrow now," Pujols said. "Hopefully we can finish it off."
Matthew Leach is a reporter for MLB.com. Read his blog, Obviously, You're Not a Golfer and follow him on Twitter at @MatthewHLeach. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.