Friday, October 28, 2011 - World Series - Game Seven vs Texas Rangers at Busch Stadium III - Attendance: 47,399 - Starting Pitchers: Chris Carpenter vs Matt Harrison
After the Game Six miracle finish, the Cardinals could hardly wait to get back in action again - especially with their ace - Chris Carpenter - on the mound again. Prior to the start of this game, manager Tony LaRussa gave his players a bit of a motivational speech - making sure they were focused on the business at hand: Winning Game Seven and not dwelling on what transpired the previous night.
In the other clubhouse, Texas manager Ron Washington tried to rally his team, after that devastating Game Six loss, with a humorous, profanity-laced monologue designed to erase the memory of what happened - so they could focus on the business at hand: Trying to avoid losing Game Seven.
The Rangers got off to a fast start off Carpenter - when Ian Kinsler started the game with a single to left field. Then, with Elvis Andrus batting, Cards catcher Yadier Molina quickly noticed that Kinsler had strayed too far off the bag for his own good. A snap throw to Pujols ended Kinsler's brief stint on the bases. However, Carpenter was still having trouble with his command, as Andrus drew a base on balls - then back-to-back doubles by Josh Hamilton and Michael Young put Carpenter and the Cardinals in a 2-0 hole.
However, as quickly as Carpenter found himself in trouble, he found a way out - first, by striking out the dangerous Adrian Beltre, then by retiring Nelson Cruz on a ground ball to the legendary David Freese.
Although the Rangers had a couple of runs on the board, they certainly felt like they'd missed a chance for a really big inning - much like what happened the previous night - when they had so many chances to score runs in bunches - but just couldn't get the big hit when they needed it.
Little did they know, those two first-inning runs would be the extent of their offensive production in Game Seven.
The Cardinals evened the score in their half of the first. After a pair of two-out walks to Albert Pujols and Lance Berkman - David Freese did it again - sending the crowd into an early frenzy with a two-run double to left field - giving him five RBI in his last three trips to the plate - all extra base hits: Triple, home run and a double.
With the injured Matt Holliday out of the lineup, his replacement - Allen Craig - put the Cardinals on top to stay with a third-inning solo home run to right field: 3-2.
Two innings later, facing reliever Scott Feldman, Craig drew a one-out walk to start a two-run rally. Next up - Pujols - was hit by a pitch - putting runners on first and second for Berkman - who grounded out to the right side, advancing the runners to second and third. Feldman wanted no part of Freese, so he was given an intentional walk - to load the bases. Unfortunately for Feldman, he then issued an unintentional walk to Molina, forcing in Craig from third - scoring the fourth run of the game for St Louis.
In a desperate attempt to stop the inevitable, Washington brought in C.J. Wilson from the bullpen to face Rafael Furcal - but his first pitch was nowhere near the plate - instead,hitting Furcal on the leg - bringing home Wilson's future teammate Pujols with the fifth run of the game for the Redbirds.
It was still a 5-2 Cardinal lead when David Murphy began the seventh-inning with a ground-rule double off a tiring Carpenter. LaRussa made his first call to the bullpen - bringing in Arthur Rhodes to pitch to Yorvit Torrealba - as Carpenter triumphantly exited to a rousing standing ovation.
Rhodes got his man, giving way to Octavio Dotel, who retired both Kinsler and Andrus to end the threat.
Leading off the bottom of the seventh - facing reliever Mike Adams - was the great Albert Pujols - making his final plate appearance in a Cardinal uniform. After another standing ovation, an emotional Pujols swung at all five pitches thrown to him - striking out on the last one. Most of the fans at the ballpark probably expected to see Pujols return - certain their hero would be content to stay loyal to the only franchise he had ever been associated with. The fact that he left for more money than the Cardinals were willing to pay still bothers many fans - to the point of absurdity. Get over it. Just be thankful for the 11 Hall of Fame-caliber seasons he had in St Louis - and for the two World Series championships that never would have happened without his presence in the lineup. For example: This one.
After Albert retreated back to the dugout, Berkman reached on an infield hit to the shortstop - bringing Freese to the plate - and naturally, he was given nothing to hit - so he walked again. Molina then drove in the sixth and final run of the game - scoring Berkman from second on a base hit to center.
Meanwhile, Lance Lynn - who was hit so hard in Game Six - pitched a perfect eighth-inning - setting the stage for Jason Motte to close out this championship season with a flourish. He too, was perfect - retiring the last Ranger batter to get on base - Murphy - who led-off the seventh-inning with a double.
This time, Murphy's line drive to left was hauled in by a back-peddling Allen Craig - to cap off this improbable championship season for the Cardinals. As FOX broadcaster Joe Buck proclaimed, "What a team! What a ride! The St Louis Cardinals are World Champions!"
To no one's surprise, David Freese was voted World Series Most Valuable Player - but this was truly a team effort. Offensively, five players had MVP-worthy performances:
Berkman - .423/.516/.577 - 1 HR - 5 RBI
Craig - .263/.417/.737 - 3 HR - 5 RBI
Freese - .348/.464/.696 - 1 HR - 7 RBI
Molina - .333/.414/.417 - 0 HR - 9 RBI
Pujols - .240/.424/.640 - 3 HR - 6 RBI
Carpenter - 2-0 - 19.0 IP - 2.84 ERA
Garcia - 10.0 IP - 1.80 ERA
Rhodes - 1.0 IP - 0.00 ERA
Rzepczynski - 2.2 IP - 0.00 ERA
Westbrook - 1-0 - 2.0 IP - 0.00 ERA
Had the Rangers managed to win the World Series, Mike Napoli would have surely been MVP with these numbers: .350/.464/.700 - 2 HR - 10 RBI
Interestingly, in the stolen base department, the Cardinals were 0 for 3 - the Rangers were 1 for 3 (Kinsler's ninth-inning theft of second base in Game Two - which helped Texas win by a 2-1 score).
Otherwise, Freese's Game Six walk-off home run would have been a World Series ending walk-off home run - joining Bill Mazeroski and Joe Carter in that elite category.
Finally, this would prove to be LaRussa's last game as manager of the St Louis Cardinals. He was at the helm for the greatest resurgence in franchise history - which has continued with his successor - the most frequently second-guessed manager in franchise history - Mike Matheny - at the helm.
2015 should be an interesting and challenging season - and since it's an odd-numbered year...