ACKERMAN: The Magic of Game 6

Tom Ackerman (@Ackerman1120)

The date was October 27, 2011. Game 6 of the World Series. We called a meeting underneath Busch Stadium in our downstairs studio, because the Cardinals were trailing 7-4 in the eighth inning and the Texas Rangers were five outs from winning it all.

As a few of us came up with a plan for potentially covering the end of the season, Allen Craig sent a Derek Holland pitch over the wall for a solo home run. We saw it on the studio monitor and felt the rumble of the crowd through the walls of the room. Suddenly, it was 7-5. And then Yadier Molina singled. Daniel Descalso singled. Jon Jay singled, loading the bases… and we were scrambling for a seat outside.

Fortunately for us, a few people left early and Ben Boyd (our executive producer) and I snagged a pair of green seats, just up the ramp from our studio. We saw Rafael Furcal ground out to end the eighth-inning threat… but there would be more to come.

I distinctly remember seeing the Rangers’ families moving through the downstairs hallway sometime around the start of the ninth inning, a fairly standard procedure when your team is three outs away from a championship. There might have been some cold adult beverages and plastic wrap heading to the visitors’ clubhouse, as well.

The Cardinals had other ideas.

After Jason Motte retired the side in the ninth, the stage was set for one of the greatest moments in team history – and one of three IN THIS GAME ALONE.

Neftali Feliz, the Rangers closer, struck out Ryan Theriot to start the bottom of the ninth. With the bases empty, Albert Pujols had one of his only remaining chances to swing the bat… and he doubled to center. Lance Berkman walked, bringing Craig to the plate with two on and his team trailing 7-5. But Craig was called out on strikes, and the Cardinals had one last chance.

David Freese.

Freese grew up in St. Louis and played baseball at Lafayette High School, turned down a scholarship offer from Mizzou, nearly dropped the sport altogether after burning out, resurrected his career at two other colleges before getting drafted 273rd overall by the Padres, who traded him to the Cardinals before the 2008 season.

In the fifth inning of the biggest game of his life, he allowed Josh Hamilton to reach base when he let a pop fly bonk him in the head for an error. Hamilton eventually came around to score a run that gave the Rangers a 4-3 lead.

Now down 7-5, but with runners at first and second, Freese had an opportunity against Feliz, who had the upper hand with a 1-2 count. Freese drove the next pitch deep into right.

Ben and I looked on, along with 45,000 others, as Nelson Cruz reached for a ball that would elude him and carom off the wall, a nightmare for the Rangers. Pujols scored easily. Berkman came around to score. Freese slid into third with a triple. Busch Stadium pulsed.

The Rangers’ families headed back upstairs.

Game 6 could very well have been Josh Hamilton’s story, though. Texas’ star outfielder, who had made a successful recovery of his own (from substance abuse), cracked a two-run homer in the tenth inning that gave the Rangers another two-run lead.

The bottom of the tenth, however, played out like a dream for Cardinals fans. Descalso and Jay singled again. Kyle Lohse moved them over, popping a bunt over the head of Adrian Beltre and into the glove of Elvis Andrus, who threw out Lohse. Theriot, who had struggled since the NLDS, grounded out, scoring a run. Pujols loomed. But with a runner at second, Rangers manager Ron Washington did the expected and issued an intentional walk to the best hitter on the planet.

That brought up Lance Berkman, who looked a lot cooler on the outside than what was churning through him. He would later admit that he knew the game would probably end up resting on his shoulders. And when Scott Feldman had him down to his last strike – and the Rangers were again that close to their first world championship – Berkman lined a pitch back up the middle, scoring Jay, sending Busch into a frenzy again and potentially crushing the will of Nolan Ryan’s excellent team.

The Cardinals made sure the Rangers would have no more chances to extend the game. Jake Westbrook worked the top of the 11th, allowing a one-out hit to Mike Napoli but ultimately retiring the side.

As Rangers righthander Mark Lowe began his warmup tosses, LL Cool J’s “Mama Said Knock You Out” played over the sound system:

Don’t call it a comeback
I’ve been here for years
I’m rocking my peers
Puttin’ suckers in fear
Makin’ the tears rain down like a monsoon

Freese stepped to the plate. Ran the count full. Drove the next pitch high and deep to center. Track… wall… grass. Bedlam. See you tomorrow night. Helmet spiked. Jersey shredded. History made.

The Cardinals beat the Rangers 10-9 in one of the greatest baseball games ever played, maybe the best.

Oh, there was another game to be played the next night. That one turned out pretty good, too.

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