For their third consecutive post-season series, the St. Louis Cardinals were installed as the decided underdog, this time to the American League Champion Texas Rangers, back in the World Series for a second consecutive year.
The actual margin of difference between the two clubs proved to be razor-thin. When all seven games had been played, it was the Cardinals who finished on top, winning their 11th World Championship in team history and their second in six years.
In the sixth inning of Game 1, pinch-hitter Allen Craig broke a 2-2 tie with a two-out, run-scoring single that made Chris Carpenter a winner. Carp allowed two runs over six innings and Jason Motte picked up the save.
St. Louis yielded the home field advantage upon losing Game 2 when the Rangers scored two in the ninth to erase a 1-0 Cardinals lead. The runs were charged against Motte with the key play an Ian Kinsler stolen base. Jaime Garcia threw seven shutout innings in what became a no-decision.
Moving to Texas for Game 3, Kyle Lohse was pulled after three-plus innings, but Albert Pujols had a game for the ages in the 16-7 St. Louis win. The first baseman had five hits, including three home runs, hits in four consecutive innings, 14 total bases and six RBI, all of which set or tied World Series records.
Though he walked seven, starter Edwin Jackson held on for 6 1/3 innings in Game 4, allowing just one run. However, he departed with two on base. Both scored as Mike Napoli launched Mitchell Boggs’ first pitch deep into left field for a 4-0 lead that the Rangers held.
In the pivotal Game 5, the Cardinals stranded baserunner after baserunner, 12 in total, and ultimately fell by a 4-2 score when Marc Rzepczynski allowed a two-run double by Napoli in the eighth inning. Several key mix-ups on Craig-Pujols hit and runs and wrong pitchers warming up due to bizarre phone miscommunications between La Russa and the bullpen contributed to the painful and strange defeat.
It seemed the Series was on the verge of being lost and set up to be the subject of second-guessing forever, but once again, the 2011 Cardinals were not done.
Returning home for the must-win Game 6, the Cardinals showed amazing resiliency despite uneven play. The defense committed three early errors with the result being two unearned runs for Texas. Still, despite having just three hits through seven innings, the Cardinals had pulled even three times before giving up the lead run in the top of the next inning each time. Back-to-back home runs off Lance Lynn in the seventh moved Texas ahead once again.
With the Cards down to their final strike in the ninth, David Freese’s two-run triple sent the game into extra innings. The elation did not last long as Josh Hamilton’s two-run home run off Motte in the 10th powered the Rangers to a 9-7 lead.
When things looked bleakest, the Cards found a way once again, however. RBI from Ryan Theriot and Lance Berkman knotted the score, moving the game into the 11th. Berkman’s hit again occurred with two strikes and two out. It was the first time in World Series history that a team came back twice from a two-or-more run deficit in the ninth inning and later.
Freese’s home run to dead center in the bottom of the 11th ended one of the most exciting World Series games ever. The final score was 10-9.
One of the most pivotal aspects of the 2011 World Series did not occur on the field. A one-day rain delay prior to Game 6 proved a crucial break for the Cardinals as it enabled them to bring Carpenter back for Game 7 on three days rest.
The ace allowed two first-inning runs before tossing five scoreless frames. Freese tied the game in the bottom of the first before Craig’s third-inning solo home run gave the Cards the lead to stay. St. Louis won the World Series title by taking Game 7 by a 6-2 score.
Freese was named Series Most Valuable Player after batting .348 (8-for-23) with three doubles, a triple, home run, seven RBI and four runs scored. Yadier Molina set a Cardinals World Series record with nine RBI. Though he had only one hit outside of Game 3 and batted .240 in the Series, Pujols had six RBI and joined Craig with three home runs. Berkman batted .423 in the Series, drove in five and scored a team-high nine times.
Carpenter made three World Series starts, pitching 19 innings. He won two games, including Game 7, and logged a 2.84 ERA. Garcia did not pick up a win, but allowed just two runs in 10 innings for a 1.80 ERA. The Cardinals pitchers held the Rangers to a collective .243 batting average.
Taking everything into account, including the team being 10 ½ games out in late August, then marching through all three rounds of the playoffs, this most unexpected championship is the top Cardinals story of 2011, hands down.