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Cards victory hands La Russa hat-trick of titles

By Steve Ginsburg

ST LOUIS (Reuters) - St Louis Cardinals manager Tony La Russa captured his third World Series crown on Friday but could not be drawn into deciding which was the most memorable.

"This one is just different," the 67-year-old La Russa said after the Cardinals beat the Texas Rangers 6-2 to win the Fall Classic 4-3.

"It was really hard and it was different. It's like your favorite dog, favorite cat. They're just different. They're still your favorites."

St Louis overcame a 10 1/2-game deficit in the final month of the season just to squeeze into the playoffs as a wild card after the Atlanta Braves stumbled in the stretch.

The Cardinals then came back from 2-1 down to beat the National League's top team, the Philadelphia Phillies, in five games before topping the Milwaukee Brewers 4-2 to reach the Fall Classic.

Texas had the Cards on the ropes on Thursday, holding two-run leads in the ninth and 10th before La Russa's men staged a pair of rallies and won in the 11th on a David Freese home run.

Twice Texas was one strike away from winning the crown but the never-say-die Cardinals refused to quit.

La Russa said he knew his club could compete, telling Major League Baseball Commissioner Bud Selig that his team would rally down the stretch despite their huge late August deficit.

"You've got to practice what you preach to your team, especially if you think you've got a legitimate chance to compete," he said. "It's a long season.

"If you watch the history of baseball, teams come back, and sometimes they could have come back but they give in or give up. I knew the character on our team.

"I challenged them to don't give up. Started winning some games to regain some respect. Then they just started playing every game like it's the last game and were relentless until the end."

La Russa has not divulged his future plans and three-time National League Most Valuable Player Albert Pujols is a free agent. Neither spoke about next season on Friday.

"Right now it's just enjoying the moment, man," slugger Pujols said. "I was sitting at first base with three outs left and thinking about all the things that we went through this year as a group, just how special a group of guys we are.

(Editing by John O'Brien)