The St. Louis Cardinals and Texas Rangers took to the Busch Stadium diamond Friday night in the ultimate showdown, Game Seven of the World Series. It was a first for Major League Baseball since 2002, and it came in the wake of one of the greatest games ever played.
The Cardinals only got to Game Seven, because of the miraculous manner in which they survived Game Six. And then St. Louis claimed the championship Friday.
For Game Six drama, there is Carlton Fisk off the Fenway foul pole in 1975, the Mets and Bill Buckner in 1986, Joe Carter's walkoff in 1993, the Rally Monkey's uprising in 2002.
And there is Thursday night under the shadow of the Gateway Arch.
Cardinals 10, Rangers 9 in 11 innings. Two rallies to tie by St. Louis when Texas was one strike away -- one strike! -- from its first title.
"The first job that we have today is putting yesterday aside to be remembered later," Cardinals manager Tony La Russa said prior to Game Seven. "So since I'm one of the ones on the staff that gives that message, as soon as I got stirring this morning, refused to think about last night. You control your mind. That's what we're trying to do as a team."
Good luck putting Game Six away completely. It will be remembered forever.
For David Freese's two-out, two-strike triple to right in the bottom of the ninth that forged a 7-7 tie. For Josh Hamilton's two-run homer in the top of the 10th that looked like a Series winner. For Lance Berkman's two-out, two-strike RBI single in the bottom of the 10th that made the score 9-9.
And ultimately, for Freese's walkoff home run to dead center off Mark Lowe leading off the 11th.
Freese, the suburban St. Louis native, was mobbed by his teammates as he crossed the plate. His bat -- and half of his shredded jersey his mates ripped off -- was immediately claimed by the Hall of Fame. The fan who rolled on the grass berm to claim the ball gave it back to Freese in the Cardinals' clubhouse after the game in exchange for a Freese signed bat and a ball signed by most of the St. Louis team. Freese's homer capped a 4-hour, 33-minute affair that ended at 12:39 a.m. Eastern time. The lifelong Cardinals fan said it reminded him of Jim Edmonds' walk-off home run that beat Houston in Game Six of the 2004 National League championship series.
"That defines our team, that game, the way we just kept coming back," Freese said. "We've been doing that for a long time It's incredible to be a part of this.
"I was running around the bases, and Jim Edmonds popped into my head, that moment, because I remember when he did it."
"So do I," shot out teammate Lance Berkman, an Astro in that game.
The Cardinals became the first team ever to score in the eighth, ninth, 10th and 11th innings of a Series game and the first team to come back from two runs down twice in the ninth or later. Freese became the first player in history with two tying or go-ahead hits in the ninth inning or later of a Series game. In the ninth, Freese went the other way against Texas closer Neftali Feliz, driving a 1-2 pitch over the outstretched glove of Texas right fielder Nelson Cruz as the record crowd of 47,325 erupted. Feliz left Freese at third on a Yadier Molina fly ball and that looked significant when Hamilton took Jason Motte over the wall in right-center to give Texas a 9-7 lead.
"I knew it was a go-ahead home run but the part about winning the World Series didn't enter my mind," Hamilton said. "We had the last out to make. Give them a lot of credit."
The Rangers were left stunned. As the media conducted interviews in their quiet clubhouse protective plastic still covered the televisions and rolled-up sheets were atop players' lockers to be used as part of a celebration that never happened.
"It almost seemed like it was storybook with Josh hitting a home run right there," said Texas outfielder David Murphy. "The guy who's been through so much, such a promising prospect whose career got derailed [by drug and alcohol addiction] and he comes back full circle.
"You're thinking that God has written a storybook ending right there. Josh hits a home run and Darren Oliver, a 41-year-old drafted by the Rangers so long ago (third round, 1988) and a big part of this organization for so long is going to come in and get the final out of the World Series."
Didn't happen. Oliver started the 10th with lefty-lefty matchups but gave up singles to David Descalso and John Jay. The Cardinals eventually tied the game at 9-9.