This improbable baseball season runs out to its final game tonight for the still-named St. Louis Cardinals as, down by two runs with two outs and two strikes twice in their last at bats, the Redbirds rose like Nosferatu himself last night beneath the gleaming Gateway Arch to take game six of the 2011 World Series, 10-9, against the decanted Texas Rangers.
St. Louis native David Freese fullfilled every boy’s dream twice in the span of two innings to lead the Cards into game seven in search of their 11th World Series title. First, just as it seemed the Rangers could begin celebrating the first World Series win in their 51-year franchise history, Freese cooly delivered a two-strike, two-out, two-run, bottom of the ninth triple into right field over the head of Nelson Cruz off the Rangers All-Star closer Neftali Feliz to send the game into extra inings.
Then, as the excitement of the ninth still buzzed through Busch Stadium, Ranger slugger Josh Hamilton drew gasps of despair from the Redbird faithful with a two-run homer in the top of the 10th to seemingly bury the Cards once and for all. But, after coming back from a 10 1/2 game deficit to the Atlanta Braves in late August to take the Wild-Card entry into the playoffs, Tony LaRussa’s flock took flight again, tying the game in the bottom of the tenth on another two strike, two out run-producing single by Lance Berkman after Ranger manager Ron Washington had intentionally – and intelligently – walked Card’s slugger-supreme Albert Pujols with first-base open and a runner in scoring position. Instead of champagne flowing for the Rangers, it was their life blood spilling out onto the lush green lawn.
As if fated, when the Rangers, who had leads all night long – including 7-4 in the seventh off back-to-back jacks by Adrian Beltre and Nelson Cruz – failed to score in the top of the 11th, Freese finished the blood-letting with a lead-off, walk-off 11th inning blast to dead center field to send the frenzied Redbird fans home in a blood lust.
An epic game six, at first poorly played with numerous run-producing errors by both teams – including a dropped pop-up by Freese, himself – the heroics late turned this one into a fall classic. A game at least on par with the hallowed game six between the Boston Red Sox and Cincinnati Reds of 1975 when Carlton Fisk’s wave-it-fair homer over the Fenway Park green monster in left field lifted the Sox to a 12th inning win – before a devastating loss in game 7 continued the Red Sox winless World Series curse for another 29 years.
Baseball, in some ways, is like marathoning. Both sports take from low 2-hours up to even five hours to complete (last night’s game lasted 4:38), and taken in small doses or out of context, each can seem incomparably boring. Yet when followed closely throughout a season or a race, the drama builds to Shakespearean levels, until every pitch, every footstrike takes on the weight of the world, and the glory of accomplishment can resonate for a lifetime and beyond.
And so the baseball season ends tonight on the last weekend in October, just as the World Marathon Majors season will conclude on the first weekend of November in New York City. We can only hope to witness a level of drama at the ING New York City Marathon that was been on display in St. Louis – America’s Best Baseball Town – where tonight the Vampires, I mean Cardinals, hope to draw blood again while the Rangers look to drive a stake through their collective hearts.