Series Highlight: Albert Pujols Hits Three Home Runs in Game 3 & David Freese Game 6 Heroics
The Texas Rangers capped off a franchise-record setting 96-66 regular season to earn their second straight trip to the World Series in 2011, while the St. Louis Cardinals were making their third appearance in the Fall Classic in the last eight years, winning the 2006 crown. The 2011 World Series would prove to be one of the greatest and most exciting in Major League history, though the Rangers organization and fans may dispute that claim. Texas underwent somewhat of a rebuilding year as they parted ways with left-handed ace Cliff Lee and power-hitting Vladimir Guerrero during the offseason, while acquiring slugging third baseman Adrian Beltre, All-Star catcher Mike Napoli and key reliever Koji Uehara. St. Louis suffered a major blow at the start of the 2011 campaign as soon-to-be #1 starter Adam Wainwright was lost for the entire season with Tommy John surgery. The Redbirds also had some key departures and acquisitions of their own as they said goodbye to shortstop Brendan Ryan, pitcher Trevor Miller and the disgruntled Colby Rasmus while welcoming in outfielder/first baseman Lance Berkman, middle infielder Ryan Theriot, starting pitcher Edwin Jackson and shortstop Rafael Furcal, among others. So each team had their work cut out from the start of the season. Texas rolled into the playoffs by crushing the American League West rival Los Angeles Dodgers by 10 games. They then trounced the Tampa Bay Rays three games to one in the American League Divisional Series before beating the Detroit Tigers four games to two in the ALCS. Meanwhile, the Cardinals battled it out with the Atlanta Braves down to the last day of the season for the National League Wild Card spot. Milwaukee clinched the NL Central while Philadelphia took the NL East. On the final day of the season, with the Braves and the Cardinals tied for the Wild Card, St. Louis shutout the Houston Astros 8-0 while Atlanta lost to the Phils 4-3, handing the prize to St. Louis. The Cardinals then beat the Phillies 3-2 in the National League Divisional Series and the Brewers 4-2 in the NLCS.
The two teams were relatively evenly matched heading into the Fall Classic with a combination of power hitting and dominant pitching and that was abundantly evident in the first to games as they split the Series with St. Louis ace Chris Carpenter taking a 3-2 win in Game 1 and the Rangers manufacturing a 2-1 Game 2 victory in the ninth inning. In Game 3, the bats took center stage with St. Louis' Allen Craig starting the show with a solo home run in the first inning. The Redbirds went up 5-0 in the top of the 4th, but Rangers sluggers Michael Young and Nelson Cruz each tallied home runs to cut the lead to 5-3 to begin the fifth. With each team adding three more in the fifth, Albert Pujols, who had been held hitless in the first two games, crushed a towering three-run home run off the facade in left in the top of the sixth to make it 12-6. In the top of the 7th, with Allen Craig standing on first Pujols walloped his second dinger of the day to extend the lead to 14-6. By the ninth inning, St. Louis had a commanding 15-7 lead when Albert deposited his third and final home run over the wall in left. Pujols joined Babe Ruth and Reggie Jackson as the only players in history to hit three home runs in a single World Series game - a feat that was later matched by San Francisco Giants Pablo Sandoval in 2010. Albert's performance was considered one of "the greatest individual hitting performances in World Series history." Games 4 and 5 went the way of the Rangers as they shutout the Birds 4-0 in Game 4 and then took a 4-2 victory in a battle of the aces in Game 5. Few expected the Series to offer two of the most impressive moment in World Series history as Game 6 turned into one of the greatest games Major League Baseball had ever seen.
Game 6 began innocently enough with Josh Hamilton putting the Rangers on top with an RBI single in the top of the first and Lance Berkman responded with a two-run homer in the bottom of the frame to give the Redbirds a 2-1 lead. The two squads fought to a 4-4 tie into the sixth inning when Cardinals reliever Lance Lynn was greeted with back-to-back home runs from Adrian Beltre and Nelson Cruz to put the Rangers on top 6-4. Texas added another run in the carried a 7-5 lead into the bottom of the ninth. With two on and the Rangers one strike away from the first World Series title in franchise history, David Freese drilled closer Neftali Feliz' 1-2 pitch into centerfield for a triple scoring Pujols and Berkman to tie the game at seven each. Now in extra innings, would-be AL MVP Josh Hamilton put the Rangers back on top 9-7 with a monstrous two-run home run. St. Louis was once again on the ropes, but were able to manufacture two runs and tie the game once more in the bottom f the tenth. This was the first time in Major League Baseball history that a team had come from behind to tie a single World Series game. And, it was already shaping up to be one of the most exciting before Cardinals third baseman David Freese hit a game-winning walk-off home run in the bottom of the 11th to tie the Series at three apiece and force Game 7.
St. Louis marched out ace Chris Carpenter for Game 7, making him the first pitcher in a decade to start three games in a World Series, to face Matt Harrison. Through Texas jumped out to a quick 2-0 lead in the top of the first, Carpenter shut down the Rangers offense from there on out while the St. Louis offense pounded away at the Rangers pitching. IN the end, the St. Louis Cardinals dashed the Texas Rangers bid for their first World Series title as the Redbirds won their second title in six years and 11th in franchise history. After batting .475 with three home runs and seven RBI, David Freese was named the World Series Most Valuable Player, having already won the NLCS MVP award - the first player in history to win both awards. Once the dust settled in the Gateway City and the celebrations ended, longtime manager Tony LaRussa retired from managing, having made six World Series appearances winning three, including the 2006 and 2011 with the Cardinals. In 2014, LaRussa was inducted into the National Baseball Hall of Fame.