Matt Slocum, Associated Press
ST. LOUIS — Albert Pujols thrust both arms high in the air, even before he reached home plate.
It was only the first inning, and already it felt as if the St. Louis Cardinals were home free. Because after they had overcome so much just to get this far, what could stop them?
The Cardinals won a remarkable World Series they weren't even supposed to reach, beating the Texas Rangers 6-2 in Game 7 on Friday night with another key hit by hometown star David Freese and six gutty innings from Chris Carpenter.
Pushed to the brink, the Cardinals kept saving themselves. A frantic rush to reach the postseason on the final day. A nifty pair of comebacks in the playoffs. Two desperate rallies in Game 6.
"This whole ride, this team deserves this," said Freese, who added the Series MVP award to his trophy as the NL championship MVP.
A day after an epic game that saw them twice within one strike of elimination before winning 10-9 in 11 innings, the Cardinals captured their 11th World Series crown.
"It's hard to explain how this happened," Cardinals manager Tony La Russa said.
Following a whole fall on the edge, including a surge from 10½ games down in the wild-card race, 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 the Giants in 2002.
Freese's two-run double tied it in the first, with Pujols celebrating as he scored. Good-luck charm Allen Craig hit a go-ahead homer in the third.
Given a chance to pitch by a Game 6 rainout and picked by La Russa earlier in the day to start on three days' rest, Carpenter and the tireless St. Louis bullpen closed it out.
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.
Said La Russa: "If you watch the history of baseball, teams come back."
The Rangers, meanwhile, will spend the whole winter wondering how it all got away. Texas might dwell on it forever, in fact, or at least until Nolan Ryan & Co. can reverse a World Series slide that started with last year's five-game wipeout against San Francisco.
"We were close. Two times. Game 6. That's it," Texas pitcher Colby Lewis said.
Ryan left tightlipped. When a reporter tried to ask the Rangers president and part-owner a question, someone in his entourage said: "He's not talking."
Texas had not lost consecutive games since last 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.
Instead, Texas became the first team to lose the Series two straight years since Atlanta in 1991-92.
"Sometimes when opportunity is in your presence, you certainly can't let it get away because sometimes it takes a while before it comes back," Washington said. "If there's one thing that happened in this World Series that I'll look back on is being so close, just having one pitch to be made and one out to be gotten, and it could have been a different story."
Added Texas third baseman Adrian Beltre: "We tried to come back today, but the momentum just took them."
"It's not a nice feeling, you know, being one strike away twice. I guess it's probably easier to lose four games in a row in a World Series, but being a strike away it's something that will be hard to forget," he said.
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