10/28/11 3:59 AM ET
Performer of the Game: Cardinals' Freese
By Alden Gonzalez / MLB.com
But while strolling toward the batter's box to face Rangers closer Neftali Feliz -- down two, with two on and his team one out away from ending its miraculous season two victories short -- the Cardinals third baseman only wanted to remember how simple this game can sometimes seem.
"It's all about knowing that this is the same game as when you're 6 years old, just elevated on a stage and everyone's watching," Freese said after an epic, 11-inning, 10-9 win that saw him be the hero -- twice. "You really have to keep reminding yourself that it really is the same game."
It was those reminders that Freese held onto while basically coming out of nowhere to be the Most Valuable Player in the National League Championship Series.
Spin to Win
On a breezy Thursday night, they helped calm Freese into lacing a ninth-inning, two-out, game-tying triple. And eased his mind at the start of the bottom of the 11th, when he turned a Mark Lowe changeup into a dead-center-field walk-off homer that baseball history will forever deem one of its most memorable blasts.
Freese's timeless shot marked the fifth walk-off homer in a World Series Game 6 or later, joining Bill Mazeroski (Game 7, 1960), Carlton Fisk (Game 6, 1975), Kirby Puckett (Game 6, 1991) and Joe Carter (Game 6, 1993).
For the Cardinals, it's their first World Series walk-off victory since Ken O'Dea's single won them Game 2 in 1944 and is up there with three other memorable walk-offs in postseason history -- from Ken Oberkfell in 1982, Ozzie Smith in 1985 and Jim Edmonds in 2004.
But for all those Cardinals players in a giddy postgame clubhouse, not to mention many of those that represented the largest attendance in Busch Stadium history, this was the only one that counted.
"There's nobody in this clubhouse that deserves it more than [Freese]," said Albert Pujols, who will now have at least one more game as a Cardinal. "Being from here, with the stuff that he got through in his life, nobody deserves this more than him."
Moment frozen in time
Few would argue that. Freese went from quitting baseball out of high school to rejoining the game a year later to battling through devastating injuries as a Major Leaguer -- surgery on both ankles in 2009 and '10 and the broken hand that cost him two months this season.
Then he stepped up while the Cardinals went on a historic run down the stretch, and he absolutely raked through the six games that saw his hometown team beat the NL Central champion Brewers and win the pennant.
Now, his two World Series at-bats will live on forever.
Yes, on a team with Pujols and Tony La Russa, and on a franchise with Bob Gibson, Stan Musial and 10 World Series titles, it's Freese who is the biggest hero of one of the biggest games in arguably the biggest baseball town's history.
"Those two at-bats, they were epic and they were historic as far as Cardinal lore," said Cardinals vice president and general manager John Mozeliak, who dealt Edmonds to the Padres for Freese during the 2007 offseason. "I think that sort of epitomizes this club and just sort of how we've played all year in the sense that no matter what, even if we're down to our last strike, we don't quit. To see it end that way, it was a spectacular finish off what was quite an agonizing evening."
Was it ever.
The Rangers and Cardinals combined for five errors, and one of them belonged to Freese, who settled under an ordinary Josh Hamilton popup in the top of the fifth and had it bounce off his glove.
"I felt like I was part of a circus out there, bouncing balls off the top of my hat a little bit," Freese said. "But, man, I just wanted an opportunity."
Freese got that in his first at-bat against Feliz. The 28-year-old told himself to just "stay short." He was thrown off guard by a couple of cutters to start the at-bat, then just decided to simplify things -- he was going to sit fastball and look for something out over the plate.
The line drive he hit -- on a 1-2 fastball on the outside corner -- snuck just past Nelson Cruz, landed just below the top of the right-field wall and almost ended the game in the ninth.
"If we're playing anywhere else, the game's over right there," Lance Berkman said. "This ballpark -- I mean that's a home run, for sure in Texas, but in 99 percent of the ballparks in the league. That's the walk-off. He just went ahead and did it again."
The Rangers went ahead again on a 10th-inning two-run homer by Hamilton, then the Cardinals miraculously tied it on a two-out RBI single by Berkman in the bottom half, setting the stage once again for Freese.
The Cardinals became the first team in World Series history to rally from a ninth-inning deficit and an extra-inning deficit in the same game.
"If I don't tell you that's the best game I've played," Pujols said, "I'm lying to you."
Leading off the 11th against Mark Lowe, Freese brought the count to 3-2 and just wanted to get on base to start some sort of rally. He remembered Lowe has a good changeup he's comfortable throwing with two strikes. Then he got the pitch he was looking for.
Then he didn't miss it.
"That's the pitch I wanted to throw," Lowe said. "I just left it up a little bit, and he got it."
Freese had come through, his home run landing in the center-field lawn that probably looked an awful lot like that St. Louis backyard he acted out this moment in so many times before.
But his ride isn't over yet -- and for that, Freese has himself to thank.
"We've got one more game," said Freese, who got the home run ball back from the fan who caught it, and whose jersey and bat is headed to Cooperstown.
"I hope we're the ones smiling 24 hours from now."
Alden Gonzalez is a reporter for MLB.com. Read his columns and his blog, listen to his podcast and follow him on Twitter. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.