ST. LOUIS — It was so improbable, so unthinkable, that it had to happen. Despite massive deficits in August and September, despite playing for their lives in the first round of the playoffs, despite twice being one strike away from elimination the night before, the St. Louis Cardinals are the World Series champions for 2011 after winning Game 7, 6-2, over the Texas Rangers on Friday.
The Cardinals won the first World Series Game 7 in nine years and brought home the 11th World Series championship in franchise history. They triumphed behind six-plus impressive innings from ace Chris Carpenter, more big hits by David Freese and Allen Craig, and a return to form by a bullpen that had sprung some leaks lately.
A journey that started in the spring with an unsuccessful contract negotiation and an ace’s blown elbow ended with an enormous Friday night party in downtown St. Louis. The Cardinals won their second World Series title in five years in front of a stadium-record announced crowd of 47,399 and plenty more stationed outside the park — in Ballpark Village, in hotel rooms across the street, and even atop a nearby parking garage.
Oddly, they won it with a minimum of hold-your-breath moments, but maybe those were just all used up one night earlier. Or maybe the baseball gods just decided that for once, this team and its fans deserved not to have to sit through heart-attack theater. After all, there was enough of that over the previous weeks and months.
The Cardinals lost their top starting pitcher, Adam Wainwright, before the first Spring Training game was played. They dealt without key players like Matt Holliday, Albert Pujols and Freese for significant stretches of the season. They were 10 1/2 games out of the Wild Card in late August.
It was never easy, never predictable. And yet it ended in a title. Sure, it wasn’t really comfortable until Yadier Molina’s RBI single provided a little breathing room in the seventh. But for one night, the Cardinals and their fans got to enjoy the moment.
That was thanks in large part to Carpenter, who did hero’s work. Pitching on three days’ rest for the second time in his career — the first, in the National League Division Series against the Phillies, didn’t go so well — he pitched six-plus excellent innings for his second win of the series.
Carpenter fell behind early on a walk and a pair of doubles, and that was the last time anything went the Rangers’ way. St. Louis responded immediately, behind Freese — of course. Matt Harrison walked a pair of batters with two outs in the bottom of the first, and Freese doubled to center to tie the score.
Two innings later, Craig hit a solo homer that put St. Louis ahead for good with yet another go-ahead hit. By then, Carpenter was settling in. He made it through the third and fourth without a hit, worked around a single in the fifth and finished the sixth thanks to a home-run-stealing catch from Craig in left field.
The Cards bolstered their lead with significant help from the Texas pitching staff. Three walks and two hit batsmen added up to a two-run fifth that was more than enough, and then Molina provided the insurance in the seventh.
Carpenter hit for himself in the seventh before facing one batter in that inning and being lifted. From there, the Cardinals’ bullpen looked like the stifling unit it was through the first two rounds of the postseason. Arthur Rhodes and Octavio Dotel tag-teamed the seventh, Lance Lynn pitched a nifty eighth, and Jason Motte closed it out, although the four-run lead meant no save for the Cards’ closer.
The Cardinals improved to 8-3 in seven-game World Series, and closed out their second title at the current Busch Stadium. It’s the third world championship for manager Tony La Russa.