11TH HEAVEN: Wild Cards win World Series!
BY JOE STRAUSS
ST. LOUIS • Anyone searching for an omen 27 days earlier needed only hear the first words broadcast in the Citizens Bank Ballpark press box after Roy Halladay threw the first pitch of the NL division series to Cardinals shortstop Rafael Furcal.
It was nothing more innocuous than the evening temperature: 64.
An indelible number in Cardinals lore received a companion Friday night at Busch Stadium when a team that thought itself listless, even underachieving in late August capped one of the most remarkable reversals in the game's history by defeating the Texas Rangers 6-2 in Game 7 of the World Series.
One night after becoming the first team to rally five times in a World Series game, the Cardinals used six innings of inspiration from starting pitcher Chris Carpenter, a first-inning double by Series MVP David Freese and a third-inning bolt by replacement left fielder Allen Craig to take the lead. A two-run fifth inning constructed without a hit provided a cushion that four relievers didn't need as the Cardinals ran out the 11th world championship in franchise history and the second in six seasons.
Nearly a half-century after the ‘64 Cardinals used a two-week rush to erase a 6½-game deficit en route to a world championship over the New York Yankees, the 2011 version exploited the modern-day wild card to reach the postseason and bowl over three of the game's most powerful lineups.
A frustrating season that began to shirt after a July 27 and that gained momentum after an Aug. 25 clubhouse meeting ended when Craig strangled Rangers left fielder David Murphy's fly ball.
Moments after closer Jason Motte had entered the game to Eminem's Lose Yourself, the largest crowd in new Busch Stadium history (47,399) took the message to heart.
Carpenter became the first Cardinals starting pitcher to make three World Series starts in 26 years on the same night that Freese established a new postseason record with 22 RBI.
The Cardinals left behind a stunned AL champion that twice closed within one strike of winning the Series in Game 6 but never found a way to finish.
"This is one of the great runs in baseball history,' said chairman Bill DeWitt Jr.
"We play in a city like this where we have the best fans in the world. They come out every day. They allow us to do what we did this year," general manager John Mozeliak said.
Given the same opportunity Friday, the reconstituted Cardinals never flinched hardly surprising for a bunch that found itself 10½ games off the wild-card lead on Aug. 25 and barely with a pulse when September arrived.
At one point afforded less than a 4 percent mathematical chance of reaching the postseason and rated by Las Vegas sports books as a 500-to-1 proposition to win the Series, the Cardinals overcame doubts both within and outside their clubhouse with an uncommon show of resilience, bullpen and chemistry.
"It's unbelievable, amazing, incredible," said manager Tony La Russa, who captured the third World Series championship of his career. "The teams we played in the playoffs were all great teams."
Initially dull, Carpenter raised his career postseason record to 9-2 with his fourth win in six starts this month. Working on three days' rest for only the second time in his career, Carpenter found himself trailing after his 10th pitch and down 2-0 before his team took its first at-bat. But after allowing six of the first 10 batters he saw to reach base, Carpenter more effectively changed speeds after his offense quickly tied the game.
Thursday's offensive hero also became the thread within Friday's clincher.
Perhaps a game away from losing his position during the NL division series, Freese burned Rangers starting pitcher Matt Harrison with a two-out, two-run double in the first inning before returning in the seventh to deliver a RBI single good for a four-run lead.
It was Freese who plucked the Series from doom during Thursday's ninth inning and delivered a 10-9 win with an 11th-inning home run to dead center field.
Friday Freese completed two nerveless weeks the included eight RBI. During the four-week tournament the hometown hero amassed 14 extra-base hits, including five home runs, and scored 12 times in addition to his 21 RBI.
The Cardinals interrupted history to make some. By rallying from a three-games-to-two deficit, they handed the Rangers consecutive defeats for the first time in 47 games dating to August 25, the same day the Cardinals began to exhume themselves.
The Rangers produced four of their six hits in the first two innings but were punished for giving away the night's first out on catcher Yadier Molina's pick-off of leadoff hitter Ian Kinsler, who strayed too far on a missed bunt.
Center fielder Josh Hamilton gave the Rangers a 1-0 lead with a one-out double following a five-pitch walk of shortstop Elvis Andrus and first baseman Michael Young followed with a double to right field that scored Hamilton.
Carpenter required a visit from pitching coach Dave Duncan after issuing a two-out walk in the second inning. At that point, the Cardinals ace had allowed six of 10 hitters to reach. After the consult, Carpenter permitted only two of 15 to reach.
Rangers manager Ron Washington entered the Series with a reputation for abhorring intentional walks but left wearing skid marks because of them.
The Cardinals rallied for two first-inning runs in part because of an order for Harrison to pitch around first baseman Albert Pujols with no one on and two out. However, Harrison followed by also walking right fielder Lance Berkman to give Freese a chance to rifle a two-run double into the left-center field gap.
Two innings later the Cardinals' accidental left fielder, Craig, provided his third game-winning RBI of the Series when he pumped his second home run in as many nights, this one to right-center field, for a 3-2 lead.
Craig started only because left fielder Matt Holliday finished the postseason in a soft cast, the result of a Thursday baserunning mishap. Still, Craig leveraged 19 at-bats into one of the Series' most influential offensive roles.
The game ran away from the Rangers in the fifth inning when Washington imported reliever Scott Feldman and ordered an intentional walk of Freese to load the bases after a walk, a hit batter and a right-side grounder created the two-out predicament.
With literally no room for error, Feldman forced home a deflating run by walking Molina. Washington pulled Game 5 starter C.J. Wilson from the bullpen to hit Pujols with his first pitch, making a 5-2 game.
Freese used his final postseason at-bat to provide a fitting signature, a single to center field that scored Pujols with perhaps the final run of his Cardinals career.
World Series champs, again.
Jason Motte is the man of the hour on the mound to close out the Cardinals' 11th World Series, and perhaps one of their most improbable.
The team that was over 10 games down in the playoff race in the last days of August are now the champs.
Motte retires Nelson Cruz on a fly to center, Mike Napoli on a grounder to third and David Murphy on a fly to left.
With two outs, Craig goes to a 3-2 count when Rangers pitcher Michael Gonzalez lands awkwardly and comes out of the game. In comes Alexi Ogando, who strikes him out looking. That leaves Pujols in the on-deck circle and Motte coming in from the bullpen.
1-2-3 for Lynn
Lance Lynn comes in to pitch, apparently be design, and retires the heart of the Rangers lineup in order, getting Hamilton, Young and Beltre without the ball going out of the infield.
Cards get insurance run
Pujols strikes out in the 47th installment of "This could be his last at-bat" before a single by Berkman, a walk to Freese and an RBI single by Molina that makes it 6-2. Furcal grounds up before Schumaker, in what could be his last at-bat as a Cardinal, strikes out on three pitches.
That's all for Carpenter
Murphy's leadoff double to start the seventh is enough for Tony La Russa to lift his starter after six-plus innings. Arthur Rhodes gets pinch hitter Yorvit Torrealba to fly out, and Octavio Dotel comes in to strike out Kinsler and get Andrus to fly out. On three days' rest, Carp throws 91 pitches, gives up two runs and strikes out five. Seems like a good choice.
Cards finally go down in order
With a clean slate, C.J. Wilson retires the Cards in order, the first time they've gone down 1-2-3 tonight. Carpenter hits for himself, so he's back out for the seventh, having allowed just one hit since Duncan went to the mound with two out in the second.
Craig saves a run
Remember Game 6's lousy defense? Not tonight. Allen Craig goes to the wall, leaps and pulls back a home run by Nelson Cruz with one out in the out in sixth. Mike Napoli hits a sinking liner to right that Berkman comes into catch and it's a not-so-easy 1-2-3 inning.
Two runs, no hits
The Cards score twice without getting a hit. With Scott Feldman pitching, Craig walks, Pujols is hit by a pitch, Berkman advances them with an infield out and Freese is intentionally walked. Molina is unintentionally walked to force in a run. C.J. Wilson comes in and, on the first pitch, hits Furcal to force in another to make it 5-2.
Freese does it on defense
Kinsler reaches base for the third time tonight with a single to left. Andrus bunts him on to second and Freese makes the defensive play of the night, leaning up against the Rangers dugout railing to catch a foul pop by Hamilton. Young then strikes out for the second time tonight.
Carpenter can't help himself
Back-to-back singles by Molina and Furcal -- who's 2 for 2 in the No. 7 spot -- put runners on first and second. A broken-bat ground out by Schumaker moves them up, but Carpenter hits an easy fly to right to strand them there.
1-2-3 for Carpenter
Chris Carpenter mows through the bottom of the order, striking out Mike Napoli and getting David Murphy to hit a grounder to Pujols. Rangers manager Ron Washington decides to let Harrison stay in the game and hit; he strikes out to end the inning. Carpenter has four strikeouts through four.
Craig hits 3rd homer of Series
Allen Craig, in the lineup because Matt Holliday is hurt, hits a 3-2 pitch into the Cards bullpen to make it 3-2. It's Craig's third homer of the Series and the Cards are up for the first time in Game 7. Berkman closes the inning with a smash toward right that Young makes a diving stop on at first.
Carpenter settles down
Carpenter looks to have settled down, though he does hit Beltre on the foot with two out. But Cruz follows with an easy fly ball to left and he's made it through three innings.
Cards scoring streak ends
A leadoff single by Rafael Furcal, moved down to the No. 7 spot, is negated when Skip Schumaker hits into a double play. Carpenter strikes out to end the second, snapping a streak of five straight innings in which the Cards had scored.
Rangers leave runner at third
This isn't Carpenter's best start. Mike Napoli leads off with a single and David Murphy hits into a fielder's choice. Harrison bunts him over to second and Kinsler walks, which brings Dave Duncan out to the mound. Murphy goes to third when Pujols drops Molina's pickoff throw, but Elvis Andrus bounces back to Carpenter to end the inning.
Freese, of course
Rangers starter Matt Harrison retires the first two Cards, then pitches around Albert Pujols in a strategy that doesn't seem to be working well. Lance Berkman follows with another walk and the man of the hour, David Freese, tags a shot to left center for a double that drives in two and ties the game. Yadier Molina flies out to the track in center. C.J. Wilson gets up in the bullpen for Texas.
Shaky start for Carpenter
The first four Rangers reach base, though leadoff hitter Ian Kinsler is caught stealing when he slips and falls. Josh Hamilton and Michael Young have back-to-back RBI doubles to right before Chris Carpenter strikes out Adrian Beltre and gets Nelson Cruz to ground out to end the inning with only two runs scoring.
Theriot moves into leadoff spot
With Chris Carpenter on the mound for tonight's final game of the 2011 Major League Baseball season, the Cardinals will go with the predictable at pitcher and a wrinkle atop the lineup.
Ryan Theriot will start at second base and jump right to the leadoff spot for tonight's World Series Game 7 at Busch Stadium.
The injury to Matt Holliday moves Allen Craig into left field and up to No. 2 in the lineup. That makes a completely retooled top of the lineup with two batters featured ahead of No. 3 hitter Albert Pujols appearing there together in the playoffs for the first time. For the first time this October, shortstop Rafael Furcal, who has struggled, is not batting leadoff.
The Rangers are starting lefty Matt Harrison tonight, giving manager Tony La Russa the license to put a righthanded hitter like Theriot atop the order.
Here is the Cardinals' lineup for Game 7:
1. Ryan Theriot, 2B
2. Allen Craig, LF
3. Albert Pujols, 1B
4. Lance Berkman, RF
5. David Freese, 3B
6. Yadier Molina, C
7. Rafael Furcal, SS
8. Skip Schumaker, CF
9. Chris Carpenter, P
1. Ian Kinsler, 2B
2. Elvis Andrus, SS
3. Josh Hamilton, CF
4. Michael Young, 1B
5. Adrian Beltre, 3B
6. Nelson Cruz, RF
7. Mike Napoli, C
8. David Murphy, LF
9. Matt Harrison, P
HOLLIDAY REPLACED ON ROSTER
What appeared momentarily to be a game-changing play at third base in Game 6 of the World Series has become a roster-altering event for the St. Louis Cardinals.
Matt Holliday sprained his right wrist diving back into third base on Thursday night during a pickoff that abbreviated a potential Cardinals' rally. Holliday has been placed on what is essentially a postseason disabled list, and outfielder Adron Chambers has been added to the active roster for tonight's Game 7.
Initial reports from the Cardinals clubhouse had Holliday dealing with a swollen and painful pinky finger on his right hand.
X-rays taken of the digit at the ballpark did not show a break. The club announced officially this afternoon that Holliday sustained a sprained wrist and would be unavailable for tonight's game. Allen Craig is expected to start in left field.
Injuries on both sides will be a story tonight.
Texas Rangers catcher Mike Napoli was taken into the Cardinals' training room after Game 6 to have his left ankle scanned for a sprain or break. He bent it horribly when rushing into second base, and then continued to play and catch on the damaged joint. Nelson Cruz sustained a groin strain in his final at-bat of the game.
Both were advertised as day-to-day late Thursday night.
The wrist injury concludes what's been a wacky and frustrating year for Holliday, the Cardinals' cleanup hitter and left fielder. He started the year with an emergency appendectomy the day after opening day, and things got more difficult and unlucky from there. He dealt with leg injuries, back stiffness, tendinitis in his right hand that happened as a result of aggressive swings, and, of course, a moth flew into his ear.
Major League Baseball had to approve the roster move for Holliday, and the commissioner's office released a statement saying, "MLB Postseason rules provide that injured players can be replaced during the World Series if the severity of the injury, as determined by Major League Baseball, is such that it would require a disabled list assignment during the regular season."
Baseball recently adopted the rule that allowed postseason teams to replace injured players on the roster. The rule is that the player is not available for the series after going on the disabled list. In other words, a player removed from the active roster because of injury in the National League championship series would be ineligible for the World Series.
That is academic in Holliday's case.
Tonight, win or lose, is the final game of the 2011 season.
CARPENTER TO START GAME 7
The Cardinals have decided on Chris Carpenter to start tonight's Game 7.
In two starts, including a win in Game 1, Carpenter allowed four earned runs total in 13 combined innings against the Rangers. In Game 5 on Monday at Texas, Carpenter pitched seven solid innings and allowed two runs on six hits.
Carpenter was the team's choice over Edwin Jackson or Kyle Lohse.
Although no announcement was made after the team's dramatic Game 6 win over Texas, he's the man.
"I've got to think about it," La Russa said shortly after his team's improbable Game 6 victory. "We're going to put it all together and see what makes the most sense."
That sets up Carpenter for what would be his third start of the series, if the Cardinals elect to go to him on three days' rest.
"If you don't (want to pitch), you might as well go home," Carpenter said. "This is a very important game. If you don't want that there's no reason for you to be here. ... We'll see what happens. Everybody is going to be ready. I can tell you that much."
Rain made it possible for Carpenter to be one of the everybody.
The storms that rolled through St. Louis on Wednesday and forced the postponement of Game 6 to Thursday opened up the Cardinals to even consider Carpenter for a starter. It would normally be Lohse's turn in the rotation, but the club had planned to put him the bullpen.
As far as days of rest, the turn would belong to Jackson. The righty walked seven and allowed three runs in 5 1/3 innings in a loss in Game 4. Carpenter has been the Cardinals most consistent starter through this series.