Wednesday, September 21, 2011 - At Busch Stadium III (Jaime Garcia - Starting Pitcher) - Opponent: New York Mets (Chris Schwinden - Starting Pitcher) - Attendance: 40,658
David Freese gave fans a postseason preview tonight - his two-out two-run first-inning triple to right field - which scored Albert Pujols and Lance Berkman - was eerily similar to what happened in Game Six - when the Cardinals were one strike away from World Series defeat. Freese later won that game with, arguably, the most dramatic home run in franchise history.
In this particular game, with the Cardinals down 4-3 in the seventh-inning to the New York Mets - with two out and two on (Pujols and Berkman - naturally), Freese smacked an opposite-field home deep to right field off Mets reliever Danny Herrera - to provide just enough cushion for an eventual 6-5 win.
Meanwhile, down in Miami, the Marlins had already beaten the suddenly hapless Braves, 4-0 - whose lead over the Cardinals for the one and only wild card spot in the postseason had shrunk to 1.5 games. They were doomed - and they probably knew it.
The Cardinals were red hot - by far the best offensive team in the National League all season long - on the verge of taking it up another notch - just in time for the postseason.
Defensively, however, the Cardinals were well below average - and it was some bad glove work that nearly cost them this game.
After Freese had staked Jaime Garcia to that early 2-0 lead, Allen Craig added a second-inning run -scoring Yadier Molina from third with a single off Mets starter Chris Schwinden.
That 3-0 lead immediately evaporated as the Mets took their turn at bat in a nightmarish third-inning for Garcia - and especially for shortstop Rafael Furcal. After retiring the first two batters on strikes, Garcia couldn't put his mound rival away. Schwinden grounded one up the middle, just off second baseman Skip Schumaker's glove for an infield single - then all hell broke loose.
Jose Reyes doubled down the left field line - advancing Schwinden to third. Next up - Angel Pagan - hit a routine grounder to Furcal at shortstop, which should have ended the inning. Instead, the ball squirted under his glove and through his legs into shallow left center field - as two unearned runs crossed the plate.
Next up - David Wright advanced Pagan to second with a legitimate infield single off Furcal's glove.
Mets manager Terry Collins then sent Josh Satin in to pinch hit for Lucas Duda - and the strategy paid off, as Satin laced one down the left field line - scoring both runners - to give the Mets a 4-3 lead.
That's where the score remained until the Cardinals displayed their own brand of two-out-nobody-on magic. After reliever Miguel Batista - who briefly toiled for St Louis earlier in this season - retired the first two batters in the seventh, Pujols kept the inning alive with a base hit to center.
Exit Batista - enter Danny Herrera - who immediately served up a Lance Berkman single to left field.
Up to this point in the season, Freese had been a good - but far from great - hitter. He was most effective when he didn't try to pull every pitch - when he would drive the ball to dead center - or to the opposite field - as he did in this game. His blast into the Cardinals' bullpen suddenly turned a 4-3 deficit into a 6-4 lead.
The postseason dream, which seemed to be a complete fantasy at the beginning of the month, had come alive - as the crowd came alive - with one swing of the bat.
The Mets made things interesting in the ninth-inning - when the unofficial closer - Jason Motte - yielded a two-out solo home run to Willie Harris. Motte then sent the crowd into a frenzy by striking out Josh Thole to earn his eighth save of the season - preserving the 6-5 win for Jaime Garcia (7.2 IP - 6 H - 4 R - 0 ER - 0 BB - 5 SO), who improved to 13-7 on the season.
David Freese - in what had been his finest performance in any game during his brief career - was just getting started.