October 28, 2011: Cardinals capture their 11th world championship

After rallying from 10 ½ games back in the National League wild-card race and falling behind five separate times in their 10-9 Game 6 victory over the Rangers, a 2-0 first-inning deficit didn’t seem like much for the 2011 Cardinals to overcome.

Six unanswered runs later, the Cardinals had a 6-2 victory in World Series Game 7 and the 11th world championship in franchise history.

“It’s unbelievable, amazing, incredible,” said manager Tony La Russa. “The teams we played in the playoffs were all great teams.”[1]

Shortly after the madness of Game 6, including David Freese’s game-winning home run in the bottom of the 11th inning, La Russa turned his attention to Game 7. With Game 6 postponed a day due to weather, the Cardinals planned to pitch ace Chris Carpenter on short rest.

As La Russa recalled in his book, One Last Strike, “It was fun to relive that sixth game, but about the middle of the dinner I started to get distracted, turning my attention to Game 7. Dunc (pitching coach Dave Duncan) and I had decided that Carp was going to start. But just to make sure, I called Dunc later that morning and said, “Let’s discuss the alternatives.” He said, “Carp’s pitching.” And then he hung up on me.”[2]

Game 7 would mark the sixth start of the postseason for the 36-year-old Carpenter. After pitching just three innings in Game 2 of the NLDS against the Phillies, Carpenter bounced back with a dominant showing in Game 5, throwing a complete-game, three-hit shutout opposite Roy Halladay to send the Cardinals to the NLCS.

Since then, he had picked up two more wins, including Game 1 of the World Series. In Game 5, he allowed two runs over seven innings and received no decision.

“Dave and I had a heart-to-heart with him to gauge just how ready he was to pitch, not mentally but physically,” La Russa said. “He’s the guy our club wants to have out there. He’s our guy.”[3]

The Rangers, meanwhile, turned to Matt Harrison, a 6-foot-4, 240-pound left-hander from North Carolina. The 25-year-old won 14 games during the regular season and picked up another during Game 4 of the ALDS. He had taken the loss for the Rangers in World Series Game 3, allowing three earned runs in 3 2/3 innings.

In the top of the first, the Rangers gave Harrison an early lead, though Cardinals catcher Yadier Molina did his part to limit the damage. After Ian Kinsler led off with a single into left, Molina picked him off for the first out of the game.

“That was huge,” Carpenter said. “Unbelievable. That’s Yadi doing his thing. That’s what makes him so great.”[4]

Elvis Andrus followed with a walk before Josh Hamilton and Michael Young hit back-to-back RBI doubles to give the Rangers a 2-0 lead.

“He had to settle down,” Hamilton said. “We caught him a little by surprise there in the first, but he did settle down, started getting some guys out.”[5]

“My command wasn’t great to begin with, but I thought I made some pretty good pitches also, and they hit them,” Carpenter said. “But I felt good, I made some adjustments. I continued to make pitches and do what I needed to do, and fortunately we were able to come back and win the game.”[6]

That comeback began in the bottom of the first. After Harrison walked Albert Pujols and Lance Berkman, Freese hit a two-run double into left field to tie the game.

“To me,” Berkman said, “that kind of gets lost in the shuffle. They jump out to a lead, and we come right back? At that point, we’re like ‘We’re winning, we’re winning this thing.’”[7]

Carpenter worked around a hit and an error in the second, then threw a scoreless third inning. In the bottom of the third, Allen Craig, in the lineup due to an injury to Matt Holliday in Game 6, homered on a 3-2 pitch.

“It’s phenomenal,” Cardinals hitting coach Mark McGwire said. “Here’s a guy who was having a great year and then unfortunately broke his kneecap. He’s still got a problem with his knee, but he played through it.”[8]

Scott Feldman entered the game for the Rangers in the fifth and loaded the bases with a walk, hit-by-pitch, and an intentional walk. He issued a six-pitch walk to Molina to bring the go-ahead run home before he was replaced by C.J. Wilson. Wilson hit the first batter he faced, Rafael Furcal, to make the score 4-2.

“Walks hurt us,” Rangers reliever Mike Adams said. “It’s tough to get away with that many walks. You walk people, you pay for it, especially against a team like this. That’s what made the difference in who won the Series. Maybe we tried to be a little too fine, maybe trying to be too perfect and it came back and bit us.”[9]

With two outs in the sixth, Nelson Cruz hit a deep fly ball to left field. Craig, who already hit a home run, made a leaping catch at the wall to take one away.

“The whole experience was awesome,” Craig said. “Hitting a home run was awesome and I’ve never robbed a home run like that. I was glad to do it in the seventh game of the World Series. It’s all about making the best of your opportunities. You can’t let opportunities slip.”[10]

In the seventh, another opportunity slipped by the Rangers. After outfielder David Murphy led off the inning with a ground-rule double, veteran left-hander Arthur Rhodes entered the game in place of Carpenter and got Yorvit Torrealba to fly out to center field. Octavio Dotel followed, striking out Kinsler and getting Andrus to fly out to end the inning.

In the bottom half of the inning, Molina added an RBI single to make the score 6-2. From there, the game was in the hands of the Cardinals’ bullpen. Lance Lynn retired the side in order in the eighth, placing the Cardinals three outs away from the world championship.

Closer Jason Motte took the mound for the ninth inning.

“Sitting at first base with three outs left and thinking about all the things that we went through this year, just how special this group of guys that we have is – to do that and bring another championship to the city of St. Louis is just amazing,” Pujols said.[11]

Motte started the inning by getting Cruz to fly out to center, then getting Mike Napoli to ground out to third base.

“I just remember standing out in left field and looking up into the crowd,” Craig said. “They’re chanting ‘Let’s go Cards. Let’s go Cards!’ over and over again. It just gives me goose bumps to this day remembering that and feeling that moment.”[12]

After Motte fired a first strike past Murphy, the Rangers outfielder lifted the second pitch to Craig in left field. Craig caught it to clinch the World Series. Molina raced out from behind the plate to embrace Motte and begin the celebration.

“After the final out was made, I turned to Yadi and was like, ‘Hey, come get some, baby!’” Motte recalled. “He was running out, and I remember going to put my arms around him, as he’s jumping in the air, and then next thing you know, I’m getting sideswiped from the rest of the bench! And I completely had blinders on. I hadn’t been looking at anyone else, just seeing Yadi. And I know my joy and my emotion in that moment was pretty awesome, but for me I got to see Yadi’s face. He’s got that smile, running out at me, and it’s one of those things I’ll never forget, baseball-wise. It’s burned into my mind.”[13] 

“When it finally happened, it was just pandemonium,” Adam Wainwright said. “You’re just running and you don’t know where to go or who to hug and you just realize you’re going to jump into everyone and hug everyone. You’re going to scream as loud as you can for as long as you can. And that’s what we did.”[14]

The victory capped as unlikely a championship as baseball had ever seen. No team had ever won the championship after being 10 ½ games back so late in the season.[15] At one point, the Cardinals had a less than 4% chance of even making the playoffs, and Las Vegas was offering 500-to-1 odds on the team winning the World Series.[16]

Somehow, St. Louis defied the odds.

“We’ve got character, that’s why,” Carpenter said. “The personalities in our clubhouse are unbelievable. I’ll never forget them. I’ll never forget this.”[17]

As the scoreboard flashed graphics declaring the Cardinals World Series champions and confetti fell from the sky, backup catcher Gerald Laird couldn’t believe it.

“Man, Carp, can you believe this?” he said.

“Yeah, I can,” Carpenter said. “This is unbelievable, but we all kept battling and now look at us.”[18]

With two runs allowed over six innings, Carpenter claimed his fourth win of the postseason without a loss. For the playoffs, he had a 2.72 ERA, including two wins and a 2.79 ERA across 19 1/3 World Series innings.

Freese, the Lafayette High School alum, became the first position player since Cardinals catcher Darrell Porter in 1982 to win both the NLCS MVP and the World Series MVP in the same year. Along with the World Series MVP trophy, Freese also received a sports car.

“He also shouldn’t have to buy a meal in this town for four years,” Wainwright said.[19]

“It’s a dream come true,” Freese said. “Every step of the way has been incredible. We really had to work hard for this. We believed. We wanted it, but we stayed humble. We had to fight our way into the playoffs, but once you get in it gives you a special feeling. We just kept our heads down and worked hard.”[20]

For the Rangers, who had lost to the Giants in a five-game World Series the year prior, the loss was doubly devastating.

“This will never be a good feeling,” Murphy said. “It hurts. It’s hard to go through a full season and play so well and get to Game 7 of a World Series and not get it done. There are so many positive things we can take away from this year but right now it hurts. That’s the easiest way to put it.”[21]

Ultimately, the Cardinals timely hitting and the Rangers’ untimely walks proved the difference in the series. Texas pitchers walked six batters in Game 7 and a record 41 batters in the series.[22]

Afterwards, Harrison insisted that the Rangers weren’t feeling a hangover from Game 7.

“We knew we had a chance to put it away and we didn’t,” Harrison said, “but last night was over with. Nobody was saying anything about it when we got here today.”[23]

Fort Worth Star-Telegram columnist Gil LeBreton wasn’t convinced.

“The Rangers played … like a team that knew it had let its best chance to win the World Series slip away,” he wrote.[24]

With his third World Series title, La Russa became the ninth manager to capture three championships, joining Joe McCarthy, Casey Stengel, Connie Mack, Walter Alston, Joe Torre, Sparky Anderson, Miller Huggins, and John McGraw.[25]

On October 31, after the conclusion of the World Series parade, La Russa gathered his team in the clubhouse for one final meeting. There, he announced something only a small handful of people had known since he made his decision back in August: he was retiring from the game. Craig, who had held onto the baseball from the final out of Game 7, immediately went to his locker to give the ball to La Russa.[26]

“I think this just feels like time to end it,” said La Russa, the winner of 2,728 games, including a franchise-record 1,408 with the Cardinals.[27]

Game 7 also proved to be the final game in Cardinal red for Pujols, who signed with the Angels that offseason. It was a heck of a way to end an era.

“They just would not go away,” Rangers manager Ron Washington said. “They just wouldn’t go away, and that’s the heart of a champion.”[28]


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[1] Joe Strauss, “Cardinals Rule,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, October 29, 2011.

[2] Tony La Russa (2012), One Last Strike, [Kindle Android version]. Retrieved from Amazon.com, Page 576.

[3] Dan O’Neill, “Carp Is ‘Our Guy,’” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, October 29, 2011.

[4] Dan O’Neill, “Carp Is ‘Our Guy,’” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, October 29, 2011.

[5] Tom Timmerman, “Doubly Painful,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, October 29, 2011.

[6] Dan O’Neill, “Carp Is ‘Our Guy,’” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, October 29, 2011.

[7] Benjamin Hochman (2021) 11 in ’11: A Hometown Hero, La Russa’s Last Ride in Red, and a Miracle World Series for the St. Louis Cardinals [Kindle Android version]. Retrieved from Amazon.com, Page 211.

[8] Rick Hummel, “Craig’s Time,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, October 29, 2011.

[9] Tom Timmerman, “Doubly Painful,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, October 29, 2011.

[10] Rick Hummel, “Craig’s Time,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, October 29, 2011.

[11] “They Said It,” Fort Worth Star-Telegram, October 29, 2011, Page 6CC.

[12] Benjamin Hochman (2021) 11 in ’11: A Hometown Hero, La Russa’s Last Ride in Red, and a Miracle World Series for the St. Louis Cardinals [Kindle Android version]. Retrieved from Amazon.com, Page 211.

[13] Benjamin Hochman (2021) 11 in ’11: A Hometown Hero, La Russa’s Last Ride in Red, and a Miracle World Series for the St. Louis Cardinals [Kindle Android version]. Retrieved from Amazon.com, Page 213.

[14] Benjamin Hochman (2021) 11 in ’11: A Hometown Hero, La Russa’s Last Ride in Red, and a Miracle World Series for the St. Louis Cardinals [Kindle Android version]. Retrieved from Amazon.com, Page 213.

[15] Bernie Miklasz, “Cards win like never before,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, October 29, 2011.

[16] Joe Strauss, “Cardinals Rule,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, October 29, 2011.

[17] Bernie Miklasz, “Cards win like never before,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, October 29, 2011.

[18] Bryan Burwell, “Incredible dream realized,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, October 29, 2011.

[19] Derrick Goold, “Banner Year,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, October 29, 2011.

[20] Bernie Miklasz, “Cards win like never before,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, October 29, 2011.

[21] Tom Timmerman, “Doubly Painful,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, October 29, 2011.

[22] Tom Timmerman, “Doubly Painful,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, October 29, 2011.

[23] Gil LeBreton, “Rangers’ pitching never even came close,” Fort Worth Star-Telegram, October 29, 2011.

[24] Gil LeBreton, “Rangers’ pitching never even came close,” Fort Worth Star-Telegram, October 29, 2011.

[25] Bernie Miklasz, “Cards win like never before,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, October 29, 2011.

[26] Benjamin Hochman (2021) 11 in ’11: A Hometown Hero, La Russa’s Last Ride in Red, and a Miracle World Series for the St. Louis Cardinals [Kindle Android version]. Retrieved from Amazon.com, Page 214.

[27] Joe Strauss, “‘I have no regrets,’” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, November 1, 2011.

[28] Kevin Baxter, “Ultimate wild Cards,” Los Angeles Times, October 29, 2011.

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