Ten years ago, the St. Louis Cardinals’ David Freese became an October legend.
Where were you on the night of October 27th, 2011?
I was a senior in high school, waiting for the day to be over so I could watch Game Six of the 2011 World Series. The Cardinals had lost Game Five three days earlier in Arlington due to the infamous bullpen-phone disaster that kept Marc Rzepczynski in to face catcher Mike Napoli. It was a matchup completely in the Rangers’ favor.
Sure enough, Napoli hit a bases-loaded double to bring in two Ranger runs and the Cardinals lost 4-2.
Before David Freese became a World Series hero, Game Six was a back-and-forth affair that featured porous defenses from both clubs. With the score tied 2-2 in the fourth, Nelson Cruz reached second on a pop fly that should have been caught by Matt Holliday. Cruz would score on a Mike Napoli RBI single to take a 3-2 lead. After Craig Gentry struck out, Colby Lewis bunted to move Napoli to second, but Lewis reached first on an errant throw from Fernando Salas to second.
The Rangers returned the favor when Lance Berkman reached on a fielding error by Michael Young at first. A Holliday walk moved Berkman into scoring position, and two consecutive ground balls by David Freese and Yadier Molina brought home the equalizing run. Alas, the momentum did not carry over the next half-inning.
Josh Hamilton, the reigning AL MVP, started the inning with a routine pop up to third, only to have David Freese drop the ball. Michael Young atoned for his error by doubling to left and bringing home Hamilton to take a 4-3 lead. The Rangers held that lead until the sixth. Berkman singled and Holliday reached on another Young error. After Freese walked, and manager Ron Washington summoned Alexi Ogando from the bullpen.
Instead of relief, the Rangers gave up the lead on a bases-loaded walk to Yadier Molina. The Cardinals looked to take the lead, but Matt Holliday was inexplicably picked-off third. With two outs now, a wild pitch and a walk to Nick Punto loaded the bases for Jon Jay, but he grounded out to end the inning. After six innings, it appeared that this would be a game best forgotten, with five errors combined between the teams.
That’s when the fun starts.
Nelson Cruz and Adrian Beltre both homered off then-Cardinals reliever Lance Lynn to take a two-run lead. Lynn would later get two outs, but left one man on thank to a David Murphy single. Octavio Dotel came in to face Ian Kinsler, but Murphy reached second on a wild pitch and would score on a Kinsler single. Jon Jay’s throw from center-field was errant enough to allow both the run to score, and Kinsler to reach second himself. 7-4 Rangers.
Allen Craig would homer in the bottom of the eight to make it 7-5, and the Cardinals would load the bases with two outs for Rafael Furcal. Unfortunately, Furcal could not come through, as he grounded out.
In the bottom of the ninth, the Rangers sent Neftali Feliz on the finish the game. After Ryan Theriot struck out, Albert Pujols doubled. Lance Berkman walked to put the tying run on, but Feliz got Allen Craig to strike out looking. In came David Freese with two out.
Feliz got two strikes after Freese swung and missed a 97-mph fastball. The Rangers were one strike away from their first title in franchise history.
And then, the unbelievable happened:
David Freese, a hometown kid who played at Lafayette High School in Wildwood just outside of St. Louis, came through with the Cardinals’ backs against the wall.
Felix would retire Molina on lineout to left-field to end the ninth, but the pendulum of momentum swung in St. Louis’ favor.
Jason Motte, who pitched a scoreless ninth, was on the mound in the tenth. Motte got Kinsler to pop-up but allowed a single to Elvis Andrus. In stepped Josh Hamilton, and he turned on the very first fastball from Motte.
Motte got the next two batters out, but the Rangers seized the lead again. It was time for more Cardinals magic. Daniel Descalso and Jon Jay both singled to lead off the half-inning against Darren Oliver. Initially, Edwin Jackson was going to pinch-hit, but Tony La Russa instead brought in Kyle Lohse to sacrifice bunt both Descalso and Jay to scoring position.
Scott Feldman got Ryan Theriot to ground out, scoring Descalso. Pujols was intentionally walked, and Lance Berkman came stepped. Feldman, like Feliz earlier, got two strikes on a Cardinals batter with two outs. The Rangers were once again tantalizingly close to their first Commissioner’s Trophy.
On a 2-2 count, Berkman tied the game.
Once again, the 2011 Cardinals would not go away. It was the first time in World Series history that a team came back twice when trailing in the ninth AND the tenth.
It’s fair to question the defensive tactics by Ron Washington up to this point. Nelson Cruz had a -5 DRS and a -6.4 UZR in right-field in 2011. What if Endy Chavez or Esteban German was in right field in the ninth? Perhaps more questionable was the idea to play no-doubles defense in the tenth with two outs and a runner on second in a one-run game.
Jake Westbrook came on to pitch in the eleventh inning and got Cruz to fly out. Mike Napoli, by this point a thorn in the Cardinals’ side, again reached base with a single. Westbook clamped down and got the next two out to move to the bottom half.
David Freese lead off the bottom of the eleventh against Mark Lowe. Freese worked the count full to 3-2 and became a Cardinal legend on the seventh pitch.
Jubilation. Euphoria. Exultation.
Those are a few of the words used to describe Cardinals’ fans emotions after David Freese’s walk-off winner. The Cardinals, down to their final strike twice, found a way to win. I personally still get the adrenaline rush when I watch the home run and still feel goosebumps with Freese trotting around the bases, tossing his helmet between his legs, jumping on home plate, and into the pile.
And, of course, into “the shredder“.
When you think about it, this game encapsulated the Cardinals’ resilient 2011 season. 10.5 games out of the Wild Card spot in August, the Cardinals found a way to get it done and into the postseason. The Cardinals, given little chance against a 102-win Philadelphia Phillies team, won in five games. The Cardinals, underdogs against NL Central Division champion Milwaukee Brewers, clinched the pennant in six games with David Freese leading the charge.
Even a decade later, this game still resonates with Cardinals fans, and I don’t see it losing it’s luster ever.