Two outs, bottom of the 9th, down by two runs. Cardinals third baseman David Freese, born and raised in St. Louis, comes to the plate in front of his hometown crowd. Albert Pujols and Lance Berkman wait on first and second, having doubled and walked. With two strikes against him in the count, Freese cracks a deep fly to right field. Nelson Cruz, the Rangers right fielder, makes a less than graceful attempt on the ball, which hits the wall, allowing Pujols and Berkman to score and tie the game. The crowd goes nuts! But believe it or not, this was not the biggest hit of the game for Freese, nor the only situation in which the Cardinals were trailing and down to their last strike, only to rally and tie the ballgame.
In the first half the ballgame, there were five errors between the two teams. It was ugly stuff, too. David Freese dropped a routine infield fly ball. Matt Holliday had a lazy fly glance off his glove. The Rangers infielders couldn’t get a grip on the ball, bobbling it and throwing it away a couple of times. Perhaps the ball was cold and slick and behaving oddly. Neither team looked good. And the pitching was average on both sides, though Rangers starter Colby Lewis settled down after the first few innings.
It wasn’t until the 7th inning that the game came alive. Texas began to do what they do best, and that is slug the ball. Adrian Beltre and Nelson Cruz hit back to back homers off Cardinals reliever Lance Lynn, and Ian Kinsler knocked in another with a single as the Rangers went up 7-4. That late in the ballgame, and with Albert Pujols still hitless outside of his amazing Game 3, things looked bad for St. Louis.
In the 8th inning, Allen Craig of the Cardinals pinch hit and slammed a homer to left, closing the gap to 7-5. Since the final game against the Brewers in the NLCS, Craig is 4 for 4 when pinch hitting, including two go-ahead RBI and a homer. In other at-bats, he is 1 for 12. LaRussa would do well to keep him on the bench until the later innings.
The next inning is when the excitement hit what, at the time, was its peak. Freese came to the plate and performed his heroics, pushing the game into extra innings. But the Cardinals relief pitchers couldn’t put a cap on the Rangers power surge. In the top of the 10th, Josh Hamilton broke a long streak of homerless at bats with a two-run blast. The hit sucked the wind right out of the St. Louis fans. It seemed highly unlikely that the home team could rally itself to come back yet again. It was surely too cold for that famous squirrel to show its head.
But three singles and a sacrifice bunt later in the bottom of the inning, the Cardinals had done it again. Two runs scored. Lance Berkman, the best hitter for St. Louis in the series, singled home the tying run. On to the 11th, tied 9-9.
Jake Westbrook, a former starter for the Cardinals, came on in relief and finally shut down the scoring. This is also when Rangers manager Ron Washington may have made his second big mistake of the game. (His first came in the 5th inning, when he allowed pitcher Colby Lewis to hit with the bases loaded. Lewis struck out.) With a runner on first and two out in the 11th, he pinch hit for his solid reliever Scott Feldman. Feldman was obviously the best pitcher left available to the Rangers, yet Washington wanted to play for the run rather than worry about the bottom of the inning. Pinch hitter Esteban German then grounded out to end the inning.
With Feldman now out of the game, Washington had to bring in Mark Lowe, who had only appeared once in the series and had been hammered along with the rest of the Rangers staff in Game 3. With a season ERA of 3.80, FIP of 4.16 and a WHIP of 1.44 (all high for a relief pitcher), Lowe was probably not who Rangers fans wanted to see out there. But David Freese of the Cardinals was glad to see him. With a full count, Freese took a fastball from Lowe and launched it more than 400 feet for a homer into straight away center. The Cardinals had won, and this was the biggest hit of the game (and lifetime) for Freese.
As FOX broadcaster Joe Buck got to say at the end of the game, in homage to his Hall of Fame father who announced the Game 6 walk-off home run by Kirby Puckett 20 years ago: “And we’ll see you tomorrow night!” (for Game 7).