David Freese became a household name early Friday with his baseball heroics in Game 6 of the World Series – first hitting a game-tying triple in the bottom of the ninth inning, then winning the game for the St. Louis Cardinals with a with a walk-off home run two frames later.
But as quickly as Freese became the star of an instant baseball classic, Nelson Cruz – the Texas Rangers outfielder who, just a few innings earlier, had himself become a hero with yet another post-season home run – became something of a goat.
The Rangers and Cardinals will finish off the 2011 World Series with the final game Friday night, but this matchup – much like Game 6s in the 1976, 1986 and 2002 Fall Classics – may be long remembered for its penultimate game rather than its finale. And Cruz, who came close to catching Freese's triple in right field and winning the Series for the Rangers, may have just landed on the wrong side of history.
"It went over my head," Cruz said of the line drive, according to the Texas Rangers' Web site. "He hit it pretty well. I thought I had a shot when he hit it and it kind of took off."
The two-run triple tied the score and sent the game to extra innings, in which the Cardinals overcame a two-run home run by Josh Hamilton in the 10th before winning it in the 11th when Freese played the hero again with a walk-off home run to center field off Mark Lowe.
"Cruz gave it a valiant effort," Texas manager Ron Washington said. "[Freese] hit a line drive. If it had some hang time to it, it might have been different. He smoked the ball, just hit it off the wall. [Cruz] got close to it but not close enough, undoubtedly, because he didn't catch it."
Freese, too, thought Cruz had a shot at it.
It went over my head.
- Nelson Cruz, Rangers' outfielder
"Initially I thought I hit it pretty good,'" Freese said. "I thought (Cruz) was going to grab it, so just a lot of emotions on that one."
In the seventh inning, Adrian Beltre and Cruz opened the seventh inning with home runs that gave the Rangers a 7-4 lead. The Cruz blast was his eighth of the postseason, tying him with Barry Bonds and Carlos Beltrán for the most ever during a playoff run.
Cruz's home run binge has been epic. According to the Rangers' Web site, the Dominican's 8.29 at-bat-per-home-run ratio is the best of all time among players with at least 100 career postseason at-bats – eclipsing Babe Ruth's 8.60. According to the Elias Sports Bureau, Cruz's 14 postseason homers in 2010-11 are the most in consecutive years, surpassing Cleveland's Jim Thome (10 from 1998-99), the Web site reported.
In this World Series, Cruz is batting .238 with two home runs and three RBIs.
But that was before Freese's ninth inning triple. Early Friday, sports talk radio was already abuzz with whether Cruz could have – or should have – caught it.
Adding insult to injury, Cruz strained his groin in the 11th inning, making him questionable for Game 7.
"I didn't want to take the chance and run him back out there," Washington said, according to the team's Web site. "I haven't had anything from the medical department as to the seriousness of it, but we'll just have to wait and see how everything is tomorrow."
Cruz told reporters he wouldn't miss Game 7, and a chance at redemption, for the world.
"I'm a little tight," he said, "but I'll be ready."
The Associated Press contributed to this article.