Their star player missed 4-6 weeks with a fractured wrist. They entered the month of September with a 72-64 record. In fact, on September 1, 2011, they were 9.5 games behind the NL Wild Card leading Atlanta Braves, who were 80-55 at the time.They closed the regular season out by winning 7 of their last 10. They pulled off the win against the once-thought-to-be-unbeatable Philadelphia Phillies in the NLDS after starting the series down 1 game to 2 games. Then, they knocked out the powerful Milwaukee Brewers in the NLCS. And finally, they came back in game 6 of the World Series to take it to a 7th game, and go on to win that one. They took home the Commissioner's Trophy. They were the underdogs. They were the St. Louis Cardinals.
But who could have ever counted the Cardinals out of these playoffs? If there was one team to be afraid of throughout the playoffs this year, it was the men in red (and no, not the Philadelphia Phillies). The St. Louis Cardinals were driven. They had nothing to lose. Not Fear, or anxiety, or over-confidence crossed their minds. After game 3 of the NLDS, Cardinals slugger Albert Pujols told the media, "Listen, we flip the page and come back ready to play with the same energy we've been having the last six weeks. We've been in this situation before." And, boy, were they in that situation plenty of times after.
The defining moments of the Cardinals playoff run were the Game 6 heroics by hometown kid, David Freese; it wasn't just the one homerun that made his impact so significant, it was the lead up to the at-bat. Up by 3 runs in the 7th, the Texas Rangers were in full control of the game. Even ESPN's NFL Expert Analyst @AdamSchefter tweeted the morning after, "So when I turned off the World Series in the 7th inning, with the Rangers holding a commanding three-run lead, what'd I miss?" Here's where I think the New York Times says it best:
A few batters later, Freese went on to tie up the game by driving in 2 runs on an outfield knock. The Rangers were 1 strike away from being crowned champions, but only ended up winner of the AL. The last time a team was one strike away from the championship and blew the lead: 1992. According to Kyle Kepner, the Blue Jays later went on to win the series shortly afterwards (2-innings to be exact). So, how does this add to Freese's drama? Not only was he the first batter in almost 20 years to take the lead on what could have been the final strike of the Series, but he was the first batter EVER to win the game for the team that was down to its last strike. Talk about "Being Clutch".
To top it all off, the Cards weren't down to their last strike once, but twice. Berkman tied it up in the 10th with a blooper to center. One inning later, with the score still tied, Freese takes the plate with the count full, and we all know what happens from there...
The Rangers were stunned, frozen. While the Cardinals were hot the whole ride through, the rangers kept losing heat and momentum. Less than 24 hours later, the Commissioner's Trophy was awarded to the birds. After the big Game 7 victory, Freese was easily named the World Series MVP. If there was any team that deserved this ring, it was the St. Louis Cardinals, and if there was any player who deserved the MVP award, it was the new Mr. October. Nobody could freeze Texas like David Freese.
EDIT: Interesting statistic... The Rangers gave up the lead 5 times to the Cardinals throughout the course of Game 6 of the World Series