MILWAUKEE — An afterthought in early September, the Cardinals' wild ride is headed all the way to the World Series.
Series MVP David Freese hit a three-run homer in the first and manager Tony La Russa turned again to his bullpen for seven sturdy innings as St. Louis captured its 18th pennant with a 12-6 win over the bumbling Brewers on Sunday.
Albert Pujols and the wild-card Cardinals took out the heavily favored Phillies in the first round, then dispatched the division-rival Brewers on their own turf in Game 6 of the NL Championship Series.
Looking for its second title in six seasons, St. Louis opens the World Series at home Wednesday with Chris Carpenter pitching against the Rangers.
Trailing by 10½ games in the wild-card race on Aug. 25, the Cardinals surged and took advantage of a collapse by Atlanta to win a playoff spot on the final night of the regular season.
"I mean, you could have never known," Pujols said.
Now, bolstered by relievers who keep answering the call, the Cardinals are in the World Series for the first time since beating Detroit in 2006.
"It was crazy," outfielder Matt Holliday said. "We had a lot of adversity, but we found a way."
It was a disappointing end to a scintillating season for the NL Central champion Brewers, who finished with a franchise-record 96 wins, six games ahead of St. Louis.
Baseball's best home team collapsed in the NLCS, losing twice at Miller Park.
Rafael Furcal and Pujols hit solo homers off Chris Narveson and St. Louis built a 9-4 lead by the time the bullpen took over for former Ray Edwin Jackson in the third inning. The group of Fernando Salas, Marc Rzepczynski, Octavio Dotel, Lance Lynn and Jason Motte allowed two runs the rest of the way.