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CBSSports.com Senior Baseball Columnist

Wild Game 6 proves it isn't the end, but just the beginning

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ST. LOUIS -- It was complete and utter hell on scorecards, nerves and the Texas Rangers. Start with that. Then go ... where?

To the very end, when David Freese clobbered a full-count, game-winning, World Series-saving home run against Mark Lowe to deliver his Cardinals from the evil of missed opportunities and extend their season to Game 7 with a back-from-the-dead 10-9, 11-inning prayer?

"What a hit for him," exclaimed St. Louis catcher Yadier Molina when this classic was finally over. "What a hit for St. Louis."

To the life-flashing-before-their-eyes portion of a Game 6 that will be talked about as long as they play the World Series, when the Cardinals were one strike away from losing ... twice?

To the part where the stats people confirmed that this is the only time a winning club has ever faced that situation in two different innings in World Series history?

"If you're a baseball fan, this has got to be one of the greatest ends to the regular-season-slash-postseason ever," said Lance Berkman, whose two-out RBI single in the 10th on a 2 and 2 count -- the second time the Cardinals were one strike from winter tee times -- sent this game hurtling into the 11th. "It's just been incredible."

And the beautiful thing is, it's not the end.

It's only the beginning.

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It was complete and utter hell on lovers of defense and the official scorer in this sprawling epic of a Fallen -- and then, belatedly and surely, Fall -- Classic of a game. Continue with that. Then go ... where?

Game 7, that's where.

"This is better than the three home runs that I hit the other day," Albert Pujols said. "This is just unbelieveable. This is what it's all about. I mean, baseball, if you don't think that was an exciting game, if I tell you that isn't the best game I've played in, I'm lying to you.

"It is the best game. But ... it will be more sweet if we can finish it tomorrow."

"The reality is, if we don't win tomorrow, this is a footnote," Berkman said. "If you win tomorrow, it's the stuff of legend."

Call them the Miracle Cardinals. The Amazin' Cards. The Cardiac Cards. The Old Adventures of the New Gashouse Gang. It all fits.

They've spent the past month pulling one of the greatest Houdini acts the game has ever seen, coming back from 10½ games on Aug. 25 to claim a playoff spot on the final day of the season. But that was just a prelude to this.

On a night when they completed their greatest escape of a season full of them, the Cardinals became the first team in World Series history to score in the eighth, ninth, 10th and 11th innings of a game.

"This is unbelievable," Molina kept saying in a stupefied and awestruck Cardinals clubhouse. "What we're doing right now. How many times can I say unbelievable? It's unbelievable.

"We scored, then they scored, then we scored, then they scored.

"This is the best game I've ever been a part of."

The first six innings were like bobbing for baseballs. The Cardinals closed their eyes, opened their mouths and all they got was wet. Three errors. A blown 2-1 lead. In the seventh, a blown 4-3 lead.

"Really and truly, this was an ugly game for the first six or seven innings," Berkman said. "And then it got beautiful in a hurry."

Into the ninth, the Rangers led 7-5.

But against Texas closer Neftali Feliz in the bottom of the inning, Pujols (in about his 20th and latest "This could be his final at-bat in St. Louis!" moment) belted a one-out double. Berkman walked.

Up stepped Freese with two out. Feliz worked him into a 1 and 2 hole. Then, whack! Freese roped a laser into right field. It wasn't Nelson Cruz's finest defensive moment, but it went into the books in St. Louis as artful of a three-bagger as you'll ever see.

Tied game, 7-7.

The Busch Stadium jubilation lasted about, oh, five minutes. Because Josh Hamilton beat it out of the red-clad Cardinal faithful with a two-run homer against Jason Motte.

Into the bottom of the 10th, the Rangers led 9-7.

But against Darren Oliver, Daniel Descalso and Jon Jay coaxed singles. Out of position players, manager Tony La Russa had pitcher Edwin Jackson in the on-deck circle to bat for Motte, but called him back and sent up pitcher Kyle Lohse instead.

Why?

"Bunt," La Russa said later, demonstrating with his hands as if holding a bat. Lohse has spent more time in the NL in recent years and is a better bunter.

So with Adrian Beltre practically charging down his throat, Lohse bunted ... and the ball popped up over the onrushing Beltre and dropped softly -- and safely -- behind him on the infield grass in front of shortstop. Descalso and Jay moved up to second and third.

Descalso scored on Ryan Theriot's ground ball and, one batter later, of course, the Rangers intentionally walked Pujols with Jay on third. And then Berkman, against Scott Feldman, roped a 2-and-2 cutter to center field to pull the Cardinals even again at 9-9.

"I prayed before this game," Berkman said. "I understand as the four-hole hitter I was going to be in tight spots. They were going to walk Albert.

"I don't pray for hits or anything like that. I pray for calm. I pray for inner peace, and that I can play at a high level."

Berkman said he anticipated that moment long before it arrived because as the 10th inning started, he was sixth up, if the Cardinals got anything going.

"If you're up sixth in an inning, there's a great chance you're going to be up with two out and guys in scoring position," he said. "You can see it developing. I felt calm, I really did."

The inner peace came as he stood on first base with the score tied.

In the dugout by now, the tension, the jitters and the outright awe had built to crescendo levels.

"Absolutely incredible to be a part of that game," said Skip Schumaker, who started in center field and hit second but was removed in the sixth as La Russa began frantically pulling levers and pushing buttons in an effort to tack one more day onto St. Louis' season.

"I really can't believe that game. I'm at a loss for words."

"Instant classic," said Chris Carpenter, who is expected to start Game 7 for the Cardinals. "Unbelieveable. Unbelieveable.

The Cardinals, like the Rangers, realized this was a classic as the ninth bled into the 10th and then the 10th spilled into the 11th.

As Berkman would say, "It would only be a great game if we ended up winning it."

Feldman squeezed an inning-ending ground ball out of Allen Craig with Berkman on first and Pujols on second. Then Jake Westbrook, the Cardinals' seventh pitcher of the night, kept Texas off the board in the 11th.

Then, Freese, who had been charged with one error and could have had a second when he didn't catch a foul pop near the third-base stands earlier, creamed the full-count pitch from Lowe to send the World Series to its first Game 7 since 2002.

"I felt like I was part of a circus out there bouncing balls off the top of my hat a little bit," Freese said. "But man, I just wanted an opportunity."

How about two?

"The moment's never bigger than he is," Berkman said, who noted a few old teammates of his also shared similar traits: Jeff Kent, Craig Biggio and Jeff Bagwell.

"There's nobody here who deserves that more than David," Pujols said of the St. Louis native. "Doing it here in his city in front of probably his high school friends and his family, it's pretty special."

The Cardinals trailed five different times in this game. That we're going to Game 7 is, to use a word St. Louis' pesky Rally Squirrel could appreciate, nuts. It's crazy. It's ludicrous.

It is ... absolutely, positively splendid.

"It's awesome," Pujols said. "But the main game is tomorrow. Our goal tonight was to try to push this to Game 7. We've got one more life and, obviously, after tomorrow, somebody is going to be champion."

Twice the Cardinals were down to their final strike, trailing, Jack Frost nipping at their nose.

"That's never happened before," Berkman said, citing a true fact in World Series history. "I told all the guys after the game, no matter what happens tomorrow, be proud. This is historic.

"I feel ready to go. I'd like to start Game 7 this morning."

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