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Cardinals' Freese making most of second chance

St. Louis Cardinals' Lance Berkman, left, jokes with Nick Punto during practice for Game 1 of baseball's World Series against the Texas Rangers Tuesday, Oct. 18, 2011, in St. Louis. St. Louis Cardinals' Lance Berkman, left, jokes with Nick Punto during practice for Game 1 of baseball's World Series against the Texas Rangers Tuesday, Oct. 18, 2011, in St. Louis. (AP Photo/Eric Gay)
By Dave Skretta
AP Sports Writer / October 19, 2011

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ST. LOUIS—David Freese had given up on baseball. His passion for the game had vanished, and not even a scholarship offer from Missouri could lure him back to the field.

"I was burnt out," Freese recalled. "I lost the love."

Freese was content to live the life of a college student, rebuffing the Missouri coaches every time they called to see if he'd changed his mind. It wasn't until about a year out of high school that the itch to play finally came back, and it grew to the point where scratching it no longer worked.

Freese gave in and enrolled at Meramec Community College, and his play there caught the attention of the coaching staff at South Alabama. The fifth-year senior eventually blossomed into the San Diego Padres' ninth-round selection in the 2006 draft.

Fast forward through a trade to the Cardinals and couple years of growth, and Freese is at third base heading into Game 1 of the World Series against the Texas Rangers on Wednesday night.

"It's completely surreal. It's exciting," said Freese, who grew up in the St. Louis suburb of Wildwood, Mo. "It's flattering hearing and seeing all the excitement from my family, all the Cardinals nation. I can't believe it. It's what I dreamed about."

Freese said it took time away from the game -- "I played video games, I partied and just went to school," he said -- before he understood that his sweet swing could take him places.

Like the NL championship series, where he emerged as the unlikliest of MVPs after batting .595 with three homers and nine RBIs in the six-game victory over the Milwaukee Brewers.

"He's one of my favorites. Love him to death," said Cardinals hitting coach Mark McGwire. "His story could be a movie, what he's gone through."

There would be plenty of plot twists. Freese needed season-ending surgery to repair a torn tendon in his right ankle last year, and broke his left hand when he was hit by a pitch earlier this season. He was hit by another pitch again in August and sustained a concussion.

Each time, he's come back better than before.

"He and I have had long talks about adversity," McGwire said, "and how there are usually good things that come at the end of it."

A trip to the World Series certainly qualifies.

"I don't think nervous is the right word for this, because it's too exciting," Freese said. "That takes the presure out of it a little bit. We're on a big stage. Why not? That's what it's about.

"I'll have a bunch of people here," he said. "The cool thing about it is the city loves this team so much, a lot of my friends and family already have tickets. That's one less thing for me to worry about."

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STARTERS ON DECK: Rangers manager Ron Washington announced Tuesday that Colby Lewis will start Game 2 on Thursday night. He'll go against the Cardinals' Jaime Garcia.

The rest of his World Series rotation is still to be determined, but Washington felt comfortable pitching Lewis after Game 1 starter C.J. Wilson because that's the way it's been most of the year.

"He's rested, he's ready to go, he's been throwing the ball extremely well," Washington said. "With him and C.J. back to back, it worked all year, and we finally got back to that one-two punch."

Lewis allowed one run over six innings in a 4-3 win over Tampa Bay in their division series, but gave up four runs and eight hits in 5 2-3 innings in the ALCS last week against Detroit.

Garcia went 13-7 with a 3.56 ERA in the regular season, but has struggled in three postseason starts. The left-hander gave up all three runs in a 3-2 loss to the Phillies, allowed six runs in four innings against Milwaukee in the NLCS opener and scattered seven hits over 4 2-3 innings in Game 5 against the Brewers.

"You have to remember that he's young, and there are times when he has an issue that he's learning how to make the adjustments," Cardinals manager Tony La Russa said. "But right now he's plenty good enough, and he's pitched very well, especially in our park."

La Russa said that Kyle Lohse will likely take the mound when the series shifts to Texas for Game 3, and Edwin Jackson will go for the Cardinals in Game 4.

"But that might change when we talk a little more," La Russa said.

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ON THE ROAD AGAIN: Texas is starting the World Series on the road for the second straight year.

Before the winner of the All-Star game started determining which league would host Game 1, home-field advantage for the World Series alternated between the American and National leagues.

Under the old rules, Texas would have hosted at least one opener over a two-year period.

"I've never been a big fan of it, even when the American League was winning all those years in a row," Rangers first baseman-DH Michael Young said. "An exhibition game that happens in July, with about 95 percent of the guys who aren't even in (the World Series), dictates where it's played. I have a tough time wrapping my arms around that."

Ron Washington of the Rangers was the AL All-Star manager this year, and C.J. Wilson -- who starts Game 1 for Texas on Wednesday night -- was the losing pitcher.

"I said that when we lost, that I would have liked to have had home field advantage. But right now, that's only wishing," Washington said. "You've got to go play baseball, it's not wishing."

Last year, the Rangers lost the first two games of the World Series in San Francisco. They won Game 3 at home before losing two in a row and ending the series.

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HOT TO COLD: After playing 27 home games this season when the temperature was 100 degrees or more at first pitch, the Rangers are going to need long-sleeve shirts and jackets for the World Series.

The weather forecast for Games 1 and 2 in St. Louis calls for wind and a temperature in the upper 40s -- and overnight lows in the 30s.

"I think we will say 'refreshing,' that's it," Rangers manager Ron Washington said. "Both teams have to play under the same conditions. We're just going to strap it on."

Washington said he was going to make sure that equipment manager Hoggy Price packed enough warm clothes for the players -- and the manager.

"I will definitely be warm in the dugout," Washington said. "No doubt about it."

The coldest game for the Rangers this season was May 16 at the Chicago White Sox, when it was 43 degrees and breezy at first pitch. Things worked out just fine that chilly night. Texas starter Colby Lewis threw a five-hitter for his first career shutout in a 4-0 victory.

When the series switches to Texas this weekend, the forecast is for upper 70s.

Temperatures in St. Louis were ideal the first two rounds, 80 degrees for both games in the division series and 66, 67 and 63 degrees for three NLCS games.

Game 1 starter Chris Carpenter has been known to sweat through three or four jerseys on a muggy summer night. This works, too.

"It's no different, just go out and pitch," Carpenter said. "I'm going to be nice and warm anyway because I'll be doing my thing. I'm not concerned about what the weather is doing, unless it's raining and we don't get to play. That's no fun."

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AP Sports Writers R.B. Fallstrom in St. Louis and Stephen Hawkins in Dallas contributed to this report.

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