MILWAUKEE — Left behind in the postseason race, the Cardinals decided they'd focus on small goals in September. Now, the ultimate one is within reach.
St. Louis' wild ride is headed to the World Series.
"It's kind of surreal that we're here," said third baseman David Freese, who took MVP honors in the NL Championship Series. "But this team deserves what we've been rewarded."
Freese hit a three-run homer in the first inning and manager Tony La Russa again turned to his bullpen for seven sturdy innings as St. Louis captured its 18th pennant with a 12-6 victory over the Brewers late Sunday.
"For two weeks in August, we started mugging games left and right and we had to say, hey, look, unless we go about this better, we're going to ruin everything we accomplished as far as respect," La Russa said. "And we started winning a little bit. And literally played every game like it was the last game of our life."
Trailing by 10½ games in the wild-card race Aug. 25, the Cardinals surged down the stretch and took advantage of the Braves' monumental collapse to win a playoff spot on the final night of the regular season.
Once in the postseason, Albert Pujols and the Cardinals took out the heavily favored Phillies then dispatched the division rival Brewers on their own turf in Game 6.
"I mean, you could have never known," Pujols said.
It has been such a frenetic run, it seems fitting that a squirrel has become the team's unofficial mascot.
The rally squirrel started in the NL Division Series when the rodent scampered across home plate during Game 4. Another squirrel was on the field before Game 5 when Chris Carpenter shut out the Phillies.
Reliever Octavio Dotel carries a small, stuffed squirrel with him after a Philadelphia fan tossed it to him in jest.
"I lay in my bed thinking, 'Wow, we are in this position,' " Dotel said. "It's crazy to be where we are right now."