Twice on Thursday night, the Redbirds were down to their last strike, and the giddy Texas Rangers were poised to celebrate their first World Series championship. It didn't happen. Not yet.
You had to see it to believe it.
The Cardinals rallied from two-run deficits in the ninth and 10th innings. And then in the 11th, with none out and the count 3-2, local son David Freese blasted a walk-off home run for a 10-9 win and, yes, there will be a seventh game in the 107th World Series on Friday.
I firmly believe this Fall Classic, with all its twists and unbelievable turns, is being choreographed by a force greater than the mere humans playing it.
How else can you explain the way it's evolving, with all the amazing ups and downs?
It would be impossible to write the script.
As Freese raced around the bases to the delight of the ecstatic Busch Stadium crowd, it reminded me of the greatest World Series I've covered -- the 1975 classic between Boston and Cincinnati.
There are eerie similarities.
The Reds, like the Rangers, were a win away from the championship when three days of rain in Boston seemingly stalled Cincinnati's momentum. Then in a see-saw Game 6, it was Carlton Fisk's dramatic, memorable home run that gave the Red Sox a 7-6 victory in 12 innings.
Winning Games 6 and 7
Texas was on a roll when Wednesday's postponement slowed its quest of the title. It had St. Louis on the ropes.
It was almost as if the Cardinals were following the same script, with Freese, like Fisk, blasting his home run and sending the World Series to a seventh game.
Coming back from such an excruciating setback may be impossible for the Rangers -- they had the World Series in their hands not once, but twice in the four-hour, 33-minute epic.
Joe Morgan, Tony Perez, Johnny Bench and the 1975 World Series MVP, Pete Rose, can tell them it can be done. They have to believe.
I was there when Bill Mazeroski blasted his home run to give the Pirates a stunning victory over the Yankees in 1960. I was at Shea Stadium when the Red Sox, a strike away from wining the Series, watched Mookie Wilson's grounder skirt through Bill Buckner's legs and the Mets won Game 6. And then, after a rainout, won Game 7.
Despite all those cherished moments, I've never seen a more dramatic, more compelling World Series game.
No matter what happens in Friday night's Game 7, this has been a fascinating World Series.
At times, both teams have been self-destructive.
The managers, Tony La Russa of the Cardinals and Ron Washington of the Rangers, at times have been brilliant. At other times, they've made you wonder about their strategy.
It's only fitting this World Series will be decided in seven games.
Who could expect more from the Cardinals, repeatedly written off, but a juggernaut that made believers of even casual fans when they streaked down the stretch in September, winning 15 of their final 20 games to take the National League Wild Card on the final day of the season?
And then they knocked off the powerful Phillies, Major League Baseball's winningest 2011 team, in the NL Division Series. They pushed the Brewers aside to win the NL pennant, so how could the Cardinals really be the underdog in the World Series?
"What happened today, I just think it's -- you had to be here to believe it," said La Russa. "We never quit trying. I know that's kind of corny, but the fact is, we never quit trying. The dugout was alive even when we were behind, and sometimes it works."
SPREAD THE WEALTH
|Red Sox||2004, 2007|
Champagne was being chilled in the Rangers' clubhouse in the ninth inning when, with two outs, Texas up, 7-5, and Freese down to his last strike, the third baseman drove in two runs with a booming triple off the right-field wall.
Josh Hamilton's two-run homer in the top of the 10th made it 9-7 before Lance Berkman pulled the Cardinals even in the bottom of the inning with an RBI single following Ryan Theriot's RBI groundout. There were two outs and Berkman was down to his last strike when he singled to center field.
"I understand it's not over until you get the last out," said Washington. "I was just sitting there praying that we'd get the last out, and we didn't get it. You have to tip your hat to the Cardinals, the way they fought tonight and took the game from us."
Freese grew up a Cardinals fan near St. Louis in Wildwood, Mo., and he said, "When you see stuff like that happen, those become memories. I've said it time and time again as far as being a part of this comeback, but it wouldn't be as sweet if this group of guys weren't with me."
Jake Westbrook, who became the winning pitcher in relief, said, "It's one of those things where you ... just to see the desire that we have not to give up, we could have very easily just shut it down, but the guys grinded out at-bats and got some huge hits."
Yes, the Rangers were a strike away from winning the World Series in two consecutive innings.
Once would be bad enough, but twice? There was so much at stake.
"We should have had it a couple of times," Texas first baseman Michael Young said. "We felt we had the game won, so it's obviously tough."
Whether the Rangers can come back and salvage what was almost their greatest season is the question that will be answered Friday night.
Since early September, the St. Louis Cardinals have found a way to keep the music playing.
And that formula -- their lethal weapon -- will be on display Friday night in what they hope will be an encore to one of the greatest World Series games ever played.
Hal Bodley is the senior correspondent for MLB.com; he's covering his 47th World Series. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.