Reporting from St. Louis -- They came back from the dead more often than Freddy Krueger, these St. Louis Cardinals did.
They were out of the playoff race in August, considered done three games into their first postseason series, then given no chance against the mighty Milwaukee Brewers and Texas Rangers.
Yet each time they refused to die.
And Friday night that resilience was rewarded when Chris Carpenter pitched St. Louis to its second World Series title in six years, beating Texas, 6-2, to cap an improbable two-month roll.
“What can I say? This is the best thing that’s ever happened to me in my career,” said former Dodgers shortstop Rafael Furcal, who came to St. Louis in a late-July trade and wound up celebrating his first World Series championship.
But it didn’t come easily.
With five weeks left in the regular season the Cardinals trailed Atlanta by 10½ games in the National League wild-card race. Then they won 23 of their final 31 games, clinching a playoff berth when the Braves lost in 13 innings on the final night of the season.
The Cardinals were a win away from elimination in the division series against the Philadelphia Phillies. Then they beat Roy Oswalt and Roy Halladay in consecutive games to extend their season again.
They trailed the Brewers in the NL Championship Series before winning four of the next five games to get to the World Series. And once there they had to overcome deficits five times in Game 6 alone to stay alive, forcing a decisive Game 7
Then they won that game, too, capturing their 11th World Series championship.
“They just would not go away,” Texas Manager Ron Washington said. “They just wouldn’t go away, and that’s the heart of a champion.”
Many in the Cardinals clubhouse credit a late-August team meeting for fueling the turnaround.
“Everybody had written us off,” said Carpenter, one of the players who spoke at the meeting. The message, he said, was, let’s not embarrass our organization; let’s at least make it look respectful.
“I sit here right now, and I still can’t believe that we actually did this,” said Series MVP David Freese. “I keep thinking about mid-August, the mood of the team, kind of the disappointment of what was going down.”
Carpenter certainly did his part, outpitching Halladay in the division series finale, beating Milwaukee in the NLCS, then starting three times against Texas and holding the Rangers to six runs in 19 innings, winning the first and last games of the Series.
He shouldn’t have even been on the mound for Game 7. But when Wednesday’s rainout pushed Game 6 to Thursday, it gave Carpenter a chance to pitch on three days’ rest Friday for the second time in the postseason.
He was far from dominant, giving up two first-inning runs and four hits his first time through the Ranger lineup. But after he walked Ian Kinsler on four pitches in the second, pitching coach Dave Duncan paid him a visit and urged him to throw his breaking ball more.
Then, just as the Cardinals did in late August, Carpenter flipped a switch and went on a roll, setting down 13 of the next 15 hitters before leaving one batter into the seventh.
The offense bounced back too. Down 2-0 after back-to-back RBI doubles by Josh Hamilton and Michael Young in the first, the Cardinals got both runs back in the bottom of the inning on a pair of two-out walks and a two-run double from Freese.
Allen Craig then put the Cardinals ahead to stay in the third with his second solo home run in as many games.
For Texas, meanwhile, the defeat was crushing. Not only was it the Rangers’ second consecutive World Series loss but it came a day after they appeared to have the title won.
Twice in Game 6 they were ahead by two runs and just a pitch a way from a championship. Yet each time St. Louis came back, and that persistence eventually wore the Rangers down.
The Texas nightmare finally ended when David Murphy’s routine fly ball to left settled into Craig’s glove for the final out, prompting the skies above Busch Stadium to fill with fireworks and confetti.
Moments later, two clubhouse attendants wheeled more than a dozen cases of champagne and twice that much beer into the Cardinals’ clubhouse.
“This is what you dream about,” said Cardinals Manager Tony La Russa, who won his third championship. “When you’re a young kid you think about winning the World Series and it’s always in Game 7. Truly a dream come true.
“It’s hard to really imagine it actually happened.”