A Cardinals fan waves a sign in homage to Game 6 hero David Freese, who hit… (Doug Pensinger / Getty Images )
Redemption is a common theme in sports. It seldom has been on display as much as it was Thursday night in Game 6 of the World Series.
Although this has been the storyline of Rangers slugger Josh Hamilton and Manager Ron Washington, the Cardinals forced their way into the leading role with two-run rallies in the ninth and 10th innings, extending a potentially historic run to its ultimate moment.
And then won it in the 11th inning, with David Freese hitting a home run to center field off Mark Lowe. The crowd of 47,325 at Busch Stadium erupted as the Cardinals had a 10-9 victory that might be remembered forever, especially if they can follow it up with one more win in Game 7 on Friday night in St. Louis.
What else should we have expected?
Trailing the wild-card race by 10 1/2 games on Aug. 25, the Cardinals climbed back to claim the National League's final playoff spot on the last day of the season. They escaped from a 2-1 deficit to Philadelphia in the best-of-five division series. Did it really matter that they were down to their last outs in both the ninth and 10th innings on Thursay night?
"We were great tonight," Cardinals Manager Tony La Russa said. "The dugout was alive even when we were behind. Sometimes it works."
Freese's two-out triple in the ninth inning and a two-out single in the 10th from Lance Berkman kept the game going. This marked the fourth time when Albert Pujols played a game that could have been his last as a Cardinal, but there's going to be at least one more.
"It's not that easy to win a world championship, as we found out tonight," Washington said. "We had the right people in the right spots, and they beat us. . . . You have to tip your hat to the Cardinals about how hard they fought to take the game away from us."
For the first time since 2002, the World Series is going to a Game 7. La Russa is expected to send his ace, Chris Carpenter, out against the Rangers' Matt Harrison, and another high-scoring game could be in the making. These bullpens can't take much more.
"When you dream, you dream about a seventh game and all the heroics," La Russa said. "There are a lot of guys on our club really enjoying the World Series, especially the first-timers, second-timers. We'll represent, as I'm sure they will."
You don't get drama like this very often in October. Almost never before has it included seeming triumphs by guys who have overcome so much personally.
Washington, the Rangers' manager, lost a home in a flood. He almost lost his job to temporary professional insanity, when he used cocaine knowing he'd be tested later.
Luckily for him and his team, Nolan Ryan just said no.
Ryan didn't fire Washington when almost every other club president in baseball would have, and Washington has done his best to repay the Texas Rangers. Ditto Hamilton, who was greeted with open arms by Michael Young, Ian Kinsler and other teammates when he arrived in 2008, a talented question mark who had almost thrown his life away because of a drug addiction.
While Hamilton was the first overall pick in the 1999 draft, his dysfunction had always been an issue. He said his first spring with the Rangers marked the first time any teammates had ever asked him to dinner in their homes.
Hamilton's two-run home run in the 10th inning off Jason Motte gave the Rangers a 9-7 lead in a game they had led 7-4 before the Cardinals got a solo homer from Allen Craig in the eighth and Freese's two-run triple in the ninth. That one came on a 1-2 pitch with the Rangers preparing to pour out of their dugout in celebration of the first World Series championship in their franchise's 51 seasons.
In one early sequence, the Cardinals' Matt Holliday dropped a routine fly, which was followed six batters later by Freese muffing a sky-high pop directly to him. The stands were so silent you could hear one St. Louis fan bellow, "What the hell is going on?"
"I felt like I was part of a circus out there," Freese said. "Bouncing balls off my hat, stuff like that. But we kept fighting. … When things like that happen, you just have to stay focused. There are so many ways to win a ballgame."
Before the night was over, Holliday would leave with an injury initially thought to be a broken thumb, the Rangers would have reason to worry about the health of potential Series MVP Mike Napoli (ankle) and Cruz (groin), and it was Texas fans who were asking what was going on.
The Busch Stadium scoreboard shows runs, hits, errors and left on base. Here's how it read as Lowe trudged toward the dugout and Freese was mobbed at home plate:
St. Louis: 10-13-3-11.
Washington was asked afterward if he had felt like this game was his after Hamilton's 10th-inning homer. The reality is he felt that way when he sent Feliz to the mound with a 7-5 lead in the ninth.
"Of course I had that feeling," Washington said.
And it was taken away. It's yet to be determined whether it was delayed or lost permanently.