Cardinals make believers out of us all
ST. LOUIS -- When the Cardinals and Chris Carpenter were down two runs to the Rangers in the first inning on Friday night, was there ever any doubt?
If anything, the deficit wasn't big enough.
Two runs in the bottom of the first, a homer in the third and this marvelous St. Louis juggernaut was on its way to a 6-2 cakewalk and its 11th World Series championship.
Eons from now, baseball historians will write about the incredible two months of 2011 when the Cards shrugged off seemingly insurmountable odds to bury Major League Baseball's best en route to the sport's biggest prize.
The Cardinals quickly silenced skeptics who suggested it was asking too much for them to stop the hungry Rangers in a winner-take-all Game 7 on Friday night after their draining, historic comeback the night before.
The inference was the Cards might have run out of miracles. They pushed aside five -- count 'em -- Texas leads in Game 6 before David Freese's 11th-inning walk-off homer gave them a 10-9 victory, pushing the Series to a seventh game for the first time in nine years.
It was Freese -- named World Series MVP presented by Chevrolet to go along with his National League Championship Series MVP trophy -- who shattered the Rangers' spirit in the bottom of the first when he doubled home two runs to wipe out the early Texas lead.
"When you play Philly, you play Milwaukee, you play Texas, there's no time to take it easy," said Freese, who grew up 20 miles from St. Louis as a Cardinals fan. "There is some luck involved and momentum to win a championship, but we did enough things right in this Series to win it."
No matter what manager Ron Washington and his players said, coming back after Thursday's jarring setback when the Rangers twice seemingly had their first championship in hand was a reach.
"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," said Washington. "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."
Red letter day
Washington didn't say it, but this St. Louis team of destiny wouldn't let it happen.
Freese's two-run double on Texas starter Matt Harrison's 3-2 pitch followed by Allen Craig's third-inning home run sealed the deal. It was the first time the Rangers lost back-to-back games since Aug. 25.
Oh, yes, Craig.
Talk about overcoming adversity.
Matt Holliday, the Cardinals' highest-paid player, was taken off the roster on Friday because of a sprained right wrist suffered Thursday and was replaced by Craig in the starting lineup.
Not only did Craig blast the homer that put St. Louis on top for good, but in the sixth, he took a homer away from Nelson Cruz with a leaping catch in left field. It's doubtful Holliday would have made the play.
St. Louis built its lead to 5-2 in the fifth, scoring twice without a hit. In fact, it scored five runs, with Freese's double and Craig's homer as the only hits.
As Carpenter, who started slowly working on three days' rest, got stronger as the game progressed, it became obvious how important Wednesday's postponement was. Without it, the Cards' ace would not have gotten the start in Game 7, which would have been played on Thursday.
On Aug. 25, the Cardinals were 10 1/2 games behind the Braves in the NL Wild Card race. They were 8 1/2 back with 21 to go and trailed Atlanta by three games with five remaining in the regular season.
Carpenter repeated the theme of a team meeting in August that woke up the players.
"It was about not embarrassing ourselves," said Carpenter, who won two of the Cards' four games, with a 2.84 ERA. "It was about continuing to play hard, to give something to our fans, no matter if we won or we didn't win."
Manager Tony La Russa put it this way: "It was overwhelming. We were on the edge game after game. You might lose one, but as it got closer, elimination games, the character on this club is off the charts.
"And we are more talented than I think some people realize, especially as we got healthy. But you play with that urgency. It's a little scary at times and it takes a lot out of you, but it's really fun to compete that way."
As many in the sellout crowd of 47,399 began a celebration that will last until Spring Training, there was an announcement of a St. Louis parade on Sunday, complete with fireworks.
A nice gesture, but it will be anticlimactic to the show the Cardinals put on this year.
Their show, complete with their own brand of fireworks, was the culmination of two unbelievable months when they shrugged off the odds, buried opponents and played best with their backs against the wall.
That show was one for the ages -- or beyond.
Hal Bodley is the senior correspondent for MLB.com; he's covering his 47th World Series. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.