ST. LOUIS -- One strike away. Twice.
For the Rangers, it was all that stood in the way of the first world championship in the 51-year history of the franchise.
But that twice proved to be an insurmountable obstacle for Texas -- and for the Cardinals, it meant another breath, another life, another shot at redemption in an error-filled World Series Game 6 that was fraught with missteps.
Thanks to David Freese, St. Louis will get a Game 7, the first for the Fall Classic since the Angels and Giants went the distance in 2002.
Freese, whose earlier dropped pop-up was among the night's string of embarrassing gaffes, hit a tying two-run triple with two outs in the ninth inning and drilled a leadoff homer over the centerfield fence in the 11th to give the Cardinals a 10-9 victory Thursday night.
"It feels good," Freese said. "You know, I felt like I was part of a circus out there bouncing balls off the top of my hat. But man, I just wanted an opportunity. That defines our team, that game, the way we just kept coming back. There's so many different ways to win a ballgame. We kept battling and sneaked this one out tonight."
As Freese's homer landed on the grassy lawn beyond the centerfield wall, Busch Stadium shook as one of the most improbable comebacks in World Series history was completed. The Rangers, who had led 7-4 after 71/2 innings, 7-5 after 81/2 and 9-7 after 91/2, were a strike away from winning the game in both the ninth and 10th innings.
"It's not that easy to win a world championship, as we found out tonight," Ron Washington said. "We had the right people in the right spot and they beat us. You've got to give them credit. We'll bounce back tomorrow. We've been in some tough situations before and we've always responded. I expect us to respond tomorrow."
The Rangers franchise -- which began as the second version of the Washington Senators in 1961 before moving to Texas for the 1972 season -- has waited a half-century for a championship, and only the Cubs (1908) and Indians (1948 ) have been in a longer holding pattern.
With two outs in the ninth, runners on first and second and Rangers closer Neftali Feliz ahead 1-and-2 in the count, Freese tied the score at 7-7 with a two-run triple to rightfield that Nelson Cruz came within a foot of catching on a full sprint to the wall.
"Playing anywhere else, that game is over with right there," Lance Berkman said. "That's a home run for sure in Texas, but in 99 percent of the ballparks in the league, that's the walk-off. He just went and did it here."
Josh Hamilton hit his first home run since Sept. 23, a two-run shot off Jason Motte, to give the Rangers a 9-7 lead in the 10th inning. Hamilton entered the game batting .158 (3-for-19) for the series but had two hits before the home run.
The Cardinals cut it to 9-8 in the 10th on Ryan Theriot's groundout, and with the tying run at second base and two outs, Scott Feldman intentionally walked Albert Pujols -- putting a .261 hitter on base to face a .409 hitter, oddly enough. And Berkman came through, smacking a tying single to center on a 2-and-2 pitch.
Berkman, who is 10-for-23 in the series, also hit a two-run homer in the first to give the Cardinals their only lead until the final score.
In the 11th inning, the Rangers sent in their eighth pitcher of the night, Mark Lowe, who wasn't even on the roster for the first two rounds of the playoffs. With Freese leading off, Lowe fell behind 3-0, then worked his way back to 3-and-2 before Freese hammered a changeup.
It was the 15th walk-off homer in World Series history and first since the White Sox's Scott Podsednik in 2005. But it was just the fifth as late as a Game 6, joining Bill Mazeroski (1960), Carlton Fisk (1975), Kirby Puckett (1991) and Joe Carter (1993).
"We've got one more game," Freese said. "I remember during the Division Series, people were talking about memories, and I said, 'I don't dream about wining the DS. I want to win the World Series.' I hope we're the ones smiling 24 hours from now."
Rangers catcher Mike Napoli had a run-scoring single in the fourth inning to give him 10 RBIs for the six-game series. Bobby Richardson (12) and Mickey Mantle (11) are the only two players to have more than 10 RBIs in a World Series, both in 1960.
Napoli also showed his mettle by staying in the game after suffering what looked like a badly sprained ankle on a fourth-inning slide. X-rays were negative after the game.
With Pujols headed for free agency, the crowd gave him a loud ovation as he came to the plate in the ninth. He lined a double to centerfield. But other than Game 3, when he went 5-for-6 with three homers and six RBIs, Pujols is 1-for-17 for the series. That didn't dampen his enjoyment of the win, however.
"It's unbelievable how we did it," Pujols said. "This is pretty special. It's the best game I've ever been a part of. I was actually in the video room when [Freese's] hit went out and I was like, 'Holy cow! He did it!' I got out there just in time for him to make it to home plate."
St. Louis and Texas were not good defensive teams during the regular season. The Cardinals' 116 errors represented the fourth-highest total in the majors and the Rangers were two behind with 114. That flaw was exposed in Game 6 as the teams totaled five errors that led to two unearned runs for each team.
Oddly, 18 Cardinals batted in the fourth through seventh innings and not one got the ball out of the infield, but St. Louis scored two runs in that span anyway, helped by two errors by Rangers first baseman Michael Young.
Berkman had three hits, four runs scored and three RBIs for the Cardinals, who had 13 hits and seven walks. Hamilton had three hits and three RBIs for Texas, which had 15 hits and five walks. The game featured 15 pitchers, was tied on five different occasions and lasted 4 hours, 33 minutes.
"This was the greatest game I've ever played in," Berkman said. "Really and truly, this was an ugly game for six or seven innings. Then it got really beautiful at the end."