ST. LOUIS — Pushed to the brink, the Cardinals saved themselves. A frantic rush to reach the postseason on the final day. A nifty pair of comebacks in the playoffs. Two rallies in Game 6.
Turns out these Cardinals were merely gearing up for a gigantic celebration.
The Cardinals won a remarkable World Series they weren't even supposed to reach, beating the Rangers 6-2 in Game 7 on Friday with another key hit by hometown star David Freese and six gutty innings from Chris Carpenter.
"This whole ride, this team deserves this," said Freese, who added the Series MVP award to his trophy as the NLCS MVP. "This organization is top-notch. … This is definitely a dream come true. This is why you keep battling. … I'm so glad to be a part of this."
A day after an epic Game 6 that saw them twice within one strike of elimination before winning 10-9 in the 11th inning, the Cardinals captured their 11th World Series crown.
And following an entire fall on the edge, including a surge from 10½ games down in the wild-card race, Tony La Russa's team didn't dare mess with Texas or any more drama in baseball's first World Series Game 7 since the Angels beat Giants in 2002.
Freese's two-run double tied it in the first and good-luck charm Allen Craig hit a go-ahead homer in the third. Picked by La Russa earlier in the day to start on short rest, Carpenter and the tireless bullpen closed it out.
"I wish everybody in the country could get to know these guys," Craig said. "It's unbelievable. I'm just glad to be a part of it."
No Rally Squirrel needed on this night, either. Fireworks and confetti rang out at Busch Stadium when Jason Motte retired David Murphy on a fly ball to end it.
"We just kept playing," Cardinals star Lance Berkman said.
The Cardinals were loose from the beginning.
"We were all in the clubhouse and we were a loose bunch of guys," Motte said. "We were in there hanging out, dancing around, had music playing. We were all like that's the way we win and that's how we play the best, and we came out we were able to do it today. It's just amazing."
This marked the ninth straight time the home team had won Game 7 in the World Series. The Cardinals held that advantage over the AL West champions because the NL won the All-Star Game; Texas could blame that on its own pitcher, C.J. Wilson, who took the loss in July.
The Rangers, meanwhile, will spend the winter wondering how it all got away. Texas might dwell on it forever, in fact, at least until owner Nolan Ryan and company can reverse a World Series slide that started with last year's five-game wipeout against San Francisco.
Texas had not lost consecutive games since August. These two defeats at Busch Stadium cost manager Ron Washington and the Rangers a chance to win their first title in the franchise's 51-year history.
"It was in our grasp, and we didn't get it," Washington said, referring to Thursday's Game 6. "(Friday night) we fought hard for it and the Cardinals got it."
A year full of rallies and epic collapses was encapsulated in Game 6. Freese was the star, with a tying triple in the ninth and a winning homer in the 11th. His two RBIs in the clincher gave him a postseason record 21.
The Cardinals won their first championship since 2006, and gave La Russa his third World Series title.
"It's hard to explain how this happened," said the 67-year-old native of Ybor City.
Many in the team's clubhouse credit a late-August team meeting for fueling the turnaround.
"Everybody had written us off," remembers Carpenter, one of the players who spoke at the meeting. The message, he said, was "let's not embarrass our organization and our fans. Let's go at least make it look respectful."
By the time Yadier Molina drew a bases-loaded walk from starter Matt Harrison and Rafael Furcal was hit by a pitch from Wilson in relief, the crowd began to sense a title was near.
The Cardinals improved to 8-3 in Game 7s of the Series, more wins than any other club.
And on this evening, all the stars aligned for St. Louis.
Starting in place of injured Matt Holliday, Craig hit his third homer of the Series and made a leaping catch at the top of the leftfield wall. Molina made another strong throw to nail a stray runner. And Carpenter steeled himself to pitch into the seventh, every bit an ace.
Craig hit a solo homer in the third, an opposite-field fly to right that carried into the Cardinals bullpen.
The crowd had been hushed in the first when Hamilton and Michael Young hit consecutive RBI doubles. Texas might have gotten more, but Ian Kinsler strayed too far off first base and was trapped by Molina's throw.
Freese changed the mood as St. Louis tied it in the bottom half. Albert Pujols and Berkman drew walks before Freese lined a full-count floater to the wall in left-center for a two-run double. Pujols, who could have played his last game as a Cardinal, raised both arms as he crossed the plate.