David Freese is Paul Bunyan in The Gateway to the West tonight, having driven the St. Louis Cardinals to a winner-take-all Game 7 in the 2011 World Series. The Texas Rangers, reeling, have a long night ahead of them.
Thirty-six years after Carlton Fisk and Bernie Carbo and Dwight Evans against the Big Red Machine, we have Freese and Lance Berkman and Marc Rzepczynski against the Rangers. If Game 6 of the 2011 Series fell far short in terms of quality, it had every drop of the drama poured into Game 6 of the 1975 Classic.
Freese is the more impressive because, if we look at Game 6 (2011) as the movie version of Game 6 (1975), he played the roles of both Fisk and Carbo, delivering the heart-stopping game-tying hit and the winner in extra frames. Like Fisk, he is a hometown hero, born in enemy territory in Texas but raised in St. Louis.
The game had a dozen heroes, and two dozen thrilling plays, but here are the 10 that will go down as most critical to its outcome.
In the top of the fifth inning, the game stood tied 3-3.
Josh Hamilton, his balky groin limiting his effectiveness more than ever in the cold Midwestern air, lifted a slicing foul pop-up toward third base.
David Freese drifted into foul territory, tracking the ball, but then backed up, and backed up, and ended up dropping the ball in fair ground.
Hamilton had plenty of time to reach second base, but alas, had not been running hard because of his injury. He was stuck at first base.
Michael Young unstuck him.
He laced a double up the left-center gap, a ball that bounded to the wall on a short third hop.
Hamilton got the throttle open far enough to score easily. It broke the tie, and it sent a message to St. Louis.
The Cardinals had committed three errors already by then, but with Young's hit, the Rangers served them notice that further mistakes would be punished more thoroughly.
The Rangers held a three-run cushion heading into the bottom of the eighth.
It looked like only a matter of time, given their bullpen, until they hoisted the Commissioner's Trophy.
They got a quick first out, but home run by Allen Craig brought the Cardinals back within two runs, and two batters later, left-handed reliever Derek Holland left with a runner on first base and two outs.
Enter Mike Adams, an elite reliever in whom Ron Washington had shown decreasing confidence as the playoffs had progressed.
Perhaps that was justified: Adams has been far less than elite this month, with too many walks and not enough strikeouts to execute his game plan.
Still, Adams had not pitched since Game 2, fully a week ago. He was obviously rusty, and gave up consecutive singles to load the bases.
That brought Rafael Furcal to the plate.
Furcal had a home run against the Chicago Cubs in late September that won a game and helped St. Louis vault into the playoffs. He has been terrible since then, though, posting a .120 batting average (not a misprint) in the postseason.
Yet, there Furcal stood, with a chance to fully redeem himself in one shining moment.
Adams got his redemption instead.
Furcal grounded weakly back to Adams, and the Rangers had successfully reduced their magic number to three.
They were three outs from the World Series title.
The Rangers got an early edge with a first-inning run, and the Cardinals were exceptionally lucky to have gotten out of the frame with only that much damage.
When Lance Berkman stepped to bat in the bottom of the first inning with a man on base, the crowd cheered only uneasily.
Within moments, their cheers were deafening.
Berkman clouted the first pitch to left-center field, out of the park, launching the Cardinals into the lead.
It was delightfully formulaic: Colby Lewis, home-run vulnerable, gave up a home run to Berkman, a power hitter with a particular proclivity for righty-mashing.
In a blink, the Cardinals led 2-1, and the tone was set for see-saw action.
This was more than a moment. It was a harbinger, an omen of wild and wacky things to come.
Colby Lewis faced four batters in the sixth inning.
He struck out Albert Pujols but then surrendered a single; watched Michael Young commit an error; and walked David Freese.
With the bases loaded and one out, manager Ron Washington called upon Alexi Ogando to get a critical out.
Ogando walked Yadier Molina. That tied the game, but it did something more important, too.
As it turned out, that moment represented the Cardinals' patient, relentless attitude of resilience.
It also foreshadowed the disastrous collapse of the Rangers' bullpen, beginning with the very first batter they faced as a unit.
In a game marked by shoddy defense and poor execution, this was a singularly brilliant exemplar of both. It came with Nick Punto at bat, the very next guy due up after Molina walked to tie the contest.
On a pitch near the outside corner, Rangers catcher Mike Napoli dropped to both knees and fired an overhand throw down the third-base line.
Adrian Beltre was waiting.
Adrian Beltre is the best defensive third baseman in the game, and arguably the best third baseman, period.
He had positioned himself perfectly.
As Matt Holliday dove back toward third base, Beltre dropped his right leg in front of the base and blocked it with perfect fundamentals, stalling Holliday as Beltre received the throw and slapped the tag into Holliday's side.
The play changed the momentum of the inning. It left the Cardinals stunned, and their fans angry.
Ogando never did find anything Thursday night. He would probably have given away the game on the spot if not for the help of the out and the Cardinal distraction that followed.
Moreover, this was the moment at which St. Louis lost Matt Holliday.
It remains to be seen whether he will be ready for Game 7, but he severely bruised his right pinkie finger and had to be removed from Game 6.
That was huge, whether you believe it hurt the Cardinals, or helped them: Replacement Allen Craig hit the home run that began the long Cardinals rally later in the game.
Beltre saved the game for the Rangers with the brilliant defense of third base that helped him pick off Matt Holliday in the bottom of the sixth.
For a moment, it looked like he won it mere minutes later.
Beltre led off the top of the seventh inning. He took a ball, then swung at the second pitch, and connected flush.
The ball leaped out on a line to right-center field, gone without getting more than 40 feet off the ground, and the Rangers had the lead.
For all the complex scenarios games like these present, home runs are beautiful and simple.
David Freese had no further obligation.
He had long done his part when he came to bat in the bottom of the 11th inning.
Still, going the extra mile always endears you to the home folks, so Freese showed off his terrific spray power and landed a ball on the grassy knoll beyond center field.
That permitted Joe Buck to utter his favorite expression, stolen from his own father and long worn out by now but still a neat capture of the moment, "We'll see you tomorrow night."
Hamilton's injury was in evidence all night.
He looked pained running the bases, pained climbing the dugout steps, pained on every swing as he twisted and (however slightly) engaged his groin.
He had not homered all postseason, and that seemed in no danger of changing as he came to bat in the top of the 10th inning.
After all, Hamilton still looked hobbled. Determined, yes, but hobbled. He looked, if you squinted just right, a lot like Kirk Gibson.
In the next moment, no squinting was required.
Hamilton had been struggling to catch up with high pitches all month, largely because high pitches require more from a batter's lower half.
On the first pitch, though, Jason Motte threw Hamilton a low fastball.
Hamilton merely lunged with his legs, but buggy-whipped his bat through the hitting zone with remarkable speed.
It was a wholly upper-body swing, an ugly one in some respects, but the ball took off like a rocket to right field.
It flew well out of the park.
It was suddenly 9-7 Rangers in the top of the 10th, and Hamilton had approximated Gibson's achievement as closely as a player playing on the road could have done.
The Rangers had their lead back, thanks to Hamilton's legacy-making homer. They needed only to avoid a second consecutive blown save in order to win the World Series right then and there.
It didn't happen.
Darren Oliver, inexplicably inserted to begin the inning, allowed two singles and a sacrifice bunt.
Ron Washington then called upon Scott Feldman, albeit three batters late.
Feldman got a crucial groundout from Ryan Theriot. Thereupon, Washington called for a questionable (not entirely asinine, but questionable) intentional walk to Albert Pujols.
That brought up Lance Berkman.
Feldman got ahead of Berkman 1-2, but on a 2-2 count, Berkman connected.
He didn't bash the ball, but he lofted it easily into center field, tying the game and sending seismic ripples as far as the Gateway Arch.
The Cardinals had busted the Rangers bullpen entirely.
This was Rangers bullpen collapse 1.0.
Neftali Feliz had two runs to work with when he entered the game in the bottom of the ninth.
He got a huge out by striking out Ryan Theriot, ensuring Albert Pujols would come to the plate unable to drive home the tying run. He then imploded.
Pujols doubled, cleanly and smoothly. That's when Feliz began laboring.
He stood around the mound between every offering thereafter, staring out into the far reaches of Busch Stadium and not seeing whatever he was looking for.
The game slowed to a crawl.
Feliz walked Berkman on four pitches. He got Allen Craig on a nasty curve for a key strikeout, but not before throwing seven pitches in a protracted two-minute span.
Up came Freese.
Feliz seemed uncomfortable with his fastball, so he threw three straight breaking pitches to start the sequence. Freese took one for a ball, took one for a strike and swung through one to fall behind 1-2.
The Cardinals were down to their last strike.
Feliz then went back to the fastball.
Freese drove it on a looping line toward deep right field. Nelson Cruz ran back on it, but took a bad route.
He also jogged, inexplicably, as though setting up for a loping catch. He never got there. He should have sprinted back, found the wall and then addressed the baseball.
He might not have had time, anyway.
At any rate, the ball got over his head, rolled forever on its ricochet off the wall, and allowed both Pujols and Berkman to score to tie the game.
The rest of the story all came before this narrative, so you know it well.