ST. LOUIS — Twice down to their last strike, the Cardinals kept rallying to win one of baseball's greatest thrillers.
David Freese completed a startling night of comebacks with a home run leading off the bottom of the 11th to beat Texas 10-9 Thursday night, and suddenly fans all over got something they have waited a long time to see: Game 7 in the World Series.
"Man, that was incredible," Freese said. "But we fought back, we made some mistakes early on, but the way we have been playing lately, you expect to come back like this. This is just a good feeling, and I'm pumped we're playing (tonight).
"Just an incredible feeling, seeing all my teammates at the dish waiting for me."
Freese, the hometown boy who made good, had already written himself into St. Louis lore in Game 6 with a two-strike, two-out, two-run triple in the ninth off Rangers closer Neftali Feliz that made tied the score at 7.
"Initially I was like 'Are you kidding me? My first (at-bat) off Feliz in this situation ever,' " Freese said. "I just beared down, got a pitch to hit. Initially I thought I hit it pretty good, I thought (rightfielder Nelson Cruz) was going to grab it, so just a lot of emotions on that one."
After banged-up Josh Hamilton hit a two-run homer in the Texas 10th, St. Louis again tied it when Lance Berkman hit a two-out single on a 2-and-2 pitch from Scott Feldman.
Busch Stadium was still in frenzy when Freese opened the 11th with a leadoff shot over the centerfield wall off Mark Lowe. Freese thrust his arm in the air as he rounded first base, and the crowd was delirious.
"You had to be here to believe it," Cardinals manager Tony La Russa said.
The collapse was unprecedented. No team had ever come from behind twice in the ninth inning and later to tie a World Series game or take the lead.
"I understand it's not over till you get that last out," Texas manager Ron Washington said. "I was just sitting there praying we got that last out. We didn't get it."
A night that started off terribly for both teams turned terrific for everyone watching.
After it was over, La Russa, a Tampa native, wasn't willing to announce his starter for Game 7 — many believe it will be ace Chris Carpenter on three days' rest. Matt Harrison is set to start for Texas.
Home teams have won the last eight Game 7s in the World Series, a streak that started with the Cardinals beating Milwaukee in 1982.
Texas trudged off the field as Freese circled the bases after connecting off Lowe, having been so close to that elusive title.
Much earlier, team president Nolan Ryan was high-fiving friends in the stands as Adrian Beltre and Cruz opened the seventh inning with home runs that helped Texas take a 7-4 lead.
Allen Craig's solo homer in the eighth began the Cardinals' comeback. Jake Westbrook wound up with the victory.
Hardly the ending anyone imagined in a game that started out with a bevy of errors and bobbles — none more surprising than the routine popup that Freese simply dropped at third base.
"I'm just glad I had a chance after I looked like an idiot on that popup," Freese said.
The Cardinals made it 4-all in the sixth when Alexi Ogando relieved starter Colby Lewis and walked Yadier Molina with the bases loaded.
Then came a key play — catcher Mike Napoli and Beltre teamed up to pick off Matt Holliday at third with the bases loaded.
With one out, Napoli zipped a throw to Beltre, who neatly used his cleat to block the diving Holliday from reaching the base. That also ended Holliday's night with a severely bruised right pinkie.
Texas wasn't quite out of trouble as Nick Punto walked to reload the bases. But Derek Holland, the star of Game 4 with shutout ball into the ninth inning, trotted in from the bullpen and retired Jon Jay on a comebacker.