Counting Cards is a new Cardsblog series featuring countdowns of the top players and moments in Cardinals history. We kick things off by reminiscing about the 2011 postseason.
Five Octobers ago, the St. Louis Cardinals hoisted their 11th World Series trophy. The championship wouldn’t have been possible without a magical playoff run. It started with a wild September to get their foot in the door, and culminated with a thrilling seven-game Fall Classic. Today, we look back at that team and its improbable ride. Without further ado, we present the Cardinals’ top 11 moments from the 2011 postseason:
11. Freese’s Game 6 home run
What? Already? No, not that Game 6 home run. David Freese’s home run in Game 6 of the NLCS was pretty big, too. In the first inning of a possible clincher in Milwaukee, the Cardinals needed to get off to a quick start to quiet the Brewer crowd. Freese, the NLCS and World Series MVP, bashed a three-run shot to put the Redbirds up four before the Brew Crew even got to bat.
10. Pujols’s game-winning single
“You can count on one finger the number of times you’ll come back from four runs down against Cliff Lee,” Lance Berkman proclaimed. Luckily for the Cardinals, that one time happened to be Game 2 of the NLDS. After the Phillies jumped out to an early four-run lead, the Cardinals creeped back in the game against Lee before Pujols delivered the big blow in the seventh to give St. Louis a 5-4 lead. The comeback allowed the Cardinals to steal a game in Philadelphia and avoid going home facing elimination.
9. Craig’s Game 7 home run
In the third inning of Game 7 of the World Series, Allen Craig lofted a fly ball past the fence in right to give the Cardinals a 3-2 lead. It gave the Cardinals the last lead they would need to take home the championship.
8. Freese’s Game 7 double
Game-tying triple, game-winning home run, game-tying double. How about that for three consecutive World Series at-bats? This one came in the first inning of Game 7, but don’t doubt it’s significance. After the Rangers jumped out to a 2-0 lead in the first, Freese made Texas starter Matt Harrison pay for a pair of two-out walks. The hit put the momentum squarely back with the good guys, and deflated the Rangers yet again. The Cardinals would not trail again that season.
7. Carpenter’s Game 7 performance
The rain ought to be the real 2011 World Series MVP, because it allowed the Cardinals to bring Carpenter back on short rest for the Game 7 start. As he was all postseason, Carpenter was magnificent in the clincher, hurling six innings of two-run ball. Both runs came in the first inning, but the always-gutsy Carpenter got out of a jam and shut the Rangers down the rest of the night. Ho, hum. Just the usual from Carpenter.
6. Pujols’s three-home run game
Albert Pujols had one good game in the 2011 World Series. But boy, was it a good one. The Machine destroyed three baseballs like only he can, and the Cardinals won a 16-7 romp in Texas to take a 2-1 series lead. This night turned out to be Pujols’s last great stand as a Cardinal. It’s safe to say that this was a good way to go.
5. Carpenter outduels Halladay
This was the Philadelphia Phillies and Roy Halladay at their absolute peaks. The Phillies had won 102 games, their most ever, and Doc had pitched to a 2.35 ERA, his lowest ever. At home in Citizens Bank Park, the Phillies were a well-deserved favorite in Game 5 of the NLDS. Carpenter, after a magnificent September to pitch the Cardinals into the playoffs, had looked human in Game 2. But he wasn’t going to be touched in Game 5. He allowed just three hits, shutting out the Phillies in one of the classic pitching duels of all time. Skip Schumaker provided the offense, and the Cardinals moved on.
4. Final out of the World Series
This is the moment every baseball player dreams about as a Little Leaguer and acts out in his backyard: the deafening crowd, the final out of the World Series, and the ensuing dogpile on the mound. It’s the moment every Cardinals fan will never forget: where they were, who they were with, and how sweet it felt. For almost any other team in any other championship year, this would be the unquestioned top moment. For the 2011 Cardinals, it’s not even in the top three. What a team. What a ride.
3. Berkman’s game-tying single
Lost in all the Freese heroics in Game 6 (hold on, we’re getting to it) is this unbelievably clutch hit by Lance Berkman. Down to the last strike yet again, the grizzly veteran knotted things up once more. Joe Buck was right: our Cardinals just wouldn’t go away. And after Josh Hamilton had given Texas the lead the previous half-inning, this response might have just killed the Rangers’ fight for good. If Freese hadn’t delivered two of the most memorable moments in baseball history, we’d be talking about this in the same category.
2. Freese’s walk-off
“We will see you…tomorrow night.”
One of the greatest games in baseball history, topped off by what you could argue is the greatest home run in baseball history. There’s not much to be said about this shot that hasn’t already been said. It cemented Freese’s legacy in St. Louis, and it’s the reason he gets an ovation every time he comes to the plate at Busch Stadium, even as a now-rival player.
1. Freese’s game-tying triple
So why this moment over all the others? After all, it didn’t win the Cardinals the World Series, or even Game 6. For me, it comes down to this fact: the Cardinals’ season could have ended on this swing. Instead, down to the final strike, Freese tied it, and the rest, as you know, is history. Most of the rest of this list wouldn’t be possible without Freese’s triple.
Image Credit: John G. Mabanglo/European Pressphoto Agency