By Seth Livingstone, USA TODAY
St. Louis Cardinals utility man Skip Schumaker, a former UC Santa Barbara star, interpreted it as a message from the baseball gods to a team of destiny.
"We had so many things happen this season," said Schumaker, after the Cardinals polished off the Texas Rangers 6-2 in a World Series Game 7 that was mundane compared to previous games of the series.
"I believed it the day we clinched (the wild card) in Houston. My dad was retiring that night. It was the anniversary of my grandfather's death. I was thinking, man, this is a weird night. And then it kept going, going, going. I knew there was a reason certain things were happening. It's going to take the next couple of days for it to sink in and think about what just happened."
After fighting from a 10 ½-game deficit in late August and staving off elimination in the ninth and 10th innings of World Series Game 6, bouncing back from a 2-0 deficit in Game 7 of the World Series was a relative piece of cake for the Cardinals.
They got the pitching they needed from Chris Carpenter (six innings), who got the start on three days' rest because of Wednesday's rainout. And they got the go-ahead jolt of power — not to mention a homer-robbing catch — from Allen Craig, who only got the start in left field because Matt Holliday was injured in Game 6.
Yes, strange indeed.
"We were one strike away (from elimination) twice (in Game 6) and guys came through," Schumaker said. "We consistently had big guys go down and guys you never heard of filled in. I'm not sure many teams have gone through what we have let alone won a World Series with it all."
Resilience was a hallmark of the 2011 Cardinals, who not only overhauled the Braves to win the wild card but eliminated the heavily-favored Phillies and NL Central champion Brewers to reach the World Series.
"We're a bunch of fighters," said reliever Lance Lynn, who pitched a perfect eighth inning before Jason Motte did the same in the ninth. "Everyone counted us down and out multiple times this year and we just wouldn't tap out. That just shows you what kind of character we have. We just showed everyone that we'll never quit."
The biggest hit of Game 7 came early, off the bat of NLCS and World Series MVP David Freese. The Game 6 hero's two-run double in the bottom of the first not only tied the score, it gave him postseason records of 21 RBI and 50 total bases.
"I don't have a word yet to describe David Freese," said Albert Pujols.
But Cardinals general manager John Mozeliak did.
"He's an amazing player," Mozeliak said. "We all knew he had the talent. We just couldn't keep him healthy. When he was on the field, I think he opened up a lot of eyes. Frankly, he carried us a little bit."
The record crowd of 47,399 at Busch Stadium began celebrating about the seventh inning when Yadier Molina's RBI single extended the Cardinals' lead to 6-2.
By then the bullpen had taken over from Carpenter, who had shaken off a rocky first inning to check the Rangers on two hits over the next five.
"Coming back out for the second (inning), I didn't know how long they were going to let me go," Carpenter said. "So, I was just trying to do everything I (could) to get one out at a time. As the game went on, I felt stronger. My stuff got better. My command got better and I was able to make some really good pitches when I had to."
Two insurances runs in the fifth came thanks to three walks and two hit batters. But it was the intentional walk to Freese that led to Molina's run-scoring walk on a 3-2 pitch from Texas starter Matt Harrison. When reliever C.J. Wilson hit Furcal with the bases still full, it became 5-2.
Craig's one-out homer for a 3-2 lead in the third inning was his third of the World Series. He also leaped above the left-field fence to take a home run away from Nelson Cruz in the sixth.
"When he hit that ball it felt like it literally went up into outer space," Craig said. "I didn't know when it was going to come down. We do this drill in spring training where (coach Dave) McKay shoots balls as high as he possibly can. It was just like that. I tried to pick a spot where I could get under it. I had to jump for it. If it was going to be over the fence. I'm just glad I caught it."
Carpenter, 9-2 with a 3.05 ERA in 15 career postseason starts (3-0, 2.00 in four World Series games) left after David Murphy's leadoff double in the seventh.
Relieving Carpenter was Arthur Rhodes, who started the season with the Rangers. He got pinch-hitter Yorvit Torrealba to fly out and Octavio Dotel, another late-season acquisition, retired the next two batters, at that time preserving a 5-2 lead.
The Cardinals (75) and Rangers (70) both surpassed the previous postseason record for relievers used (62) set by the 2002 Giants.
"Out of eight (playoff) teams, somebody was going to have to be a champion this year," said Pujols, deflecting any discussion of his free-agent future after dousing teammates with champagne and St. Louis-brewed beer. "I was just asking God, every day, to let it be us. If it was meant to be our team … we were going to win and going to try to do our best. … We're the world champions. It's pretty special."