In one of the greatest thrillers in baseball history, the St. Louis Cardinals twice rallied against the Texas Rangers Thursday night when they were down to their last strike of the season to send the World Series to a pivotal Game 7 for the first time since 2002.
First David Freese saved them with a two run triple in the ninth, then Lance Berkman delivered a tying single in the 10th.
"Turned out to be one for the ages," said Daniel Descalso, who keyed a Cardinals comeback.
Hours after Freese's home run plunked down on the grass patch beyond the center field wall, long after the ballpark emptied, a message still burned bright on the scoreboard: "See you TOMORROW NIGHT for Game 7 of the World Series!"
Whatever happens, whether the St. Louis Cardinals or Texas Rangers win, they'll have a hard time topping Thursday night.
"You had to be here to believe it," St. Louis manager Tony La Russa said.
A drained Tony La Russa sat behind the podium, jersey gone and a blue towel draped around his neck.
"When you dream," La Russa said, "you dream about a seventh game, all the heroics."
A Series that was dismissed by many around the country before it began for lacking glamour teams suddenly has turned into must-see TV.
I understand it's not over till you get that last out. I was just sitting there praying we got that last out. We didn't get it.
- Ron washington
After it was over, La Russa wasn't willing to announce his starter — many believe it will be ace Chris Carpenter on three days' rest for only the second time in his career.
"I learned what my body's going to feel like, what my stuff's going to be like," Carpenter said. "You go out there and you make pitches. We'll see what happens."
Meanwhile, Texas manager Ron Washington made his decision days ago, announcing he would stay in rotation and start Matt Harrison, the Game 3 loser. Washington could have gone with Game 4 winner Derek Holland on full rest or ace C.J. Wilson on short rest.
"Harrison has been a big part of this team all year," Washington said. "I am not changing the things that I've been doing all year."
Holland, who pitched shutout ball into the ninth inning in Game 4, could've been ready on regular rest after Wednesday's rainout. Instead, Washington used him in relief.
Home teams have won the last eight Game 7s in the World Series, a streak that started with the Cardinals beating Milwaukee in 1982.
Oh, and this: By far, the Cardinals have won the most Game 7s in Series history, going 7-3.
"There is tomorrow, now, for us," Cardinals star Albert Pujols said.
A sloppy game that made for terrible viewing turned terrific in the late innings. Freese added to the lore created by the Carlton Fisk homer in Game 6 of the 1975 Series and Bill Buckner's error in Game 6 of the 1986 Series.
"A ridiculous game, weird game," Texas second baseman Ian Kinsler said. "But I bet it was fun for the fans. We just came out on the wrong end."
To Freese, who was raised in the St. Louis area and was MVP of the NL championship series, it all reminded him of a game-ending home run Jim Edmonds hit in the 2004 playoffs.
"Growing up or whatever, and you see stuff like that happen, those become memories," said Freese, who immediately donated his bat and jersey to the Hall of Fame.
Tremendous theater, that is, except for Texas. The Rangers were that close to winning their first championship.
"I understand it's not over till you get that last out," Texas manager Ron Washington said. "I was just sitting there praying we got that last out. We didn't get it."
This was just the third time that a team one out from elimination in the World Series came back to win the game, according to STATS LLC. The New York Mets did it with Buckner's mistake and wound up winning the championship. In 1911, the New York Giants rallied past the Philadelphia A's in Game 5, but lost the next game.
Freese's tying triple off the wall and just over right fielder Nelson Cruz came on a 1-2 pitch from closer Neftali Feliz. In the 10th, after Josh Hamilton had homered to give Texas a two-run lead, Berkman's two-strike, two-out single made it 9-all.
"Initially I was like 'Are you kidding me? My first AB off Feliz in this situation ever,'" Freese said. "I just beared down, got a pitch to hit. Initially I thought I hit it pretty good, I thought (Cruz) was going to grab it, so just a lot of emotions on that one."
Berkman came through on a 2-2 pitch from Scott Feldman, finishing off a two-run rally in the 10th.
"I was one strike away," Feldman said. "That pitch there, I didn't quite get it in enough and he was able to get enough of the bat on it to knock it into center field."
Busch Stadium was still in frenzy when Freese opened the 11th with his homer off Mark Lowe. Freese thrust his arm in the air as he rounded first base, and the crowd was delirious.
"Just an incredible feeling, seeing all my teammates at the dish waiting for me," said Freese, whose shirt was torn off during the celebration.
Texas trudged off the field as Freese circled the bases, having been so close to that elusive title. Much earlier, team president Nolan Ryan was high-fiving friends in the stands as Adrian Beltre and Cruz opened the seventh with home runs that helped Texas take a 7-4 lead.
"I'm not going to lose any sleep over it," Hamilton said. "We're just going to do everything we can to prepare. Guys are already talking about it. We're ready for Game 7. Shake it off and come back tomorrow. That's just our mentality. But it goes both ways. Seems like they had that mentality. too."
Allen Craig's solo homer in the eighth began the Cardinals' comeback. Jake Westbrook wound up with the win.
The eight-year absence of baseball's ultimate game is the longest since the World Series began in 1903. The Cardinals hold the record for most World Series Game 7s, going 7-3.
When a seventh game was last played in 2002, John Lackey pitched five innings of one-hit ball to lead the Anaheim Angels over the San Francisco Giants 4-1, completing a comeback from a 3-2 Series deficit. Lackey joined Babe Adams of the 1909 Pittsburgh Pirates as the only rookie starters to win a seventh game, and the Angels became the eighth straight home team to triumph in Game 7 since the victory by Pittsburgh's "We Are Family" team at Baltimore in 1979.
In 2001, Randy Johnson came out of the bullpen on no days' rest and the Diamondbacks rallied for two runs in the ninth inning against Mariano Rivera, beating the Yankees 3-2 on Luis Gonzalez's broken-bat single.
"When you're a little kid, you think about the seventh game of the World Series," Gonzalez said. "It didn't matter how the hit came."
While the Cardinals are seeking their 11th title, the Rangers are going for the first in the 51-year history of the franchise, which began as the expansion Washington Senators in 1961. The team moved to Texas for the 1972 season.
"We've been backed into a corner for the last two months," the Cardinals' Skip Schumaker said, "so we know what it feels like."
"The experience of Game 7," La Russa said, "is something they'll never forget."
Based on reporting by the Associated Press.