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Cardinals 6, Rangers 2

Feathery touch

Cardinals take Game 7, Series crown

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By Nick Cafardo
Globe Staff / October 29, 2011

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ST. LOUIS - There was simply nothing left in the Texas Rangers after Game 6, all of the energy and emotion sapped from their collective bodies and souls. So opposite from the vigor and mojo the St. Louis Cardinals carried over into last night’s Game 7.

Which is why, coming from the wild-card position of the National League Central and 10 1/2 games out of a playoff spot on Aug. 25, the Cardinals defeated the Rangers, 6-2, behind New Hampshire native Chris Carpenter to win the 2011 World Series, the Cardinals’ second championship in six years.

So incredible was the Cardinals’ Game 6 win, 10-9 in 11 innings, in one of the greatest World Series games ever played, that manager Tony La Russa said, “We made an effort today, led by the veterans, who went to everybody and said, ‘Look, we’re going to put Game 6 in a box and put it away because you just can’t come in today feeling great vibes about last night.’ It’s just typical of our club to embrace something that is legitimate.’’

The Cardinals were the perfect example of the team that got hot in September and carried it through October. They hit and pitched better than any team and got to the World Series the hard way - by slaying the highly favored Philadelphia Phillies in the Division Series, the Milwaukee Brewers in the NL Championship Series, and the favored Rangers in the World Series.

“This is a dream,’’ said La Russa. “To be able to get to a Game 7 from where we came from, this is what you dream about doing.’’

The Rangers lost the World Series for the second straight season. Though a team to be reckoned with for many years because of a talented roster, deep farm system, and resources that should make them a big-market team once a $1.4 billion TV deal begins in 2014, the Rangers are taking the path of becoming the Buffalo Bills of Major League Baseball. While getting this far is a victory, losing twice is a bitter feeling for the Rangers, who seemed to play much more nervously even with their postseason experience.

The Cardinals’ championship might be bittersweet as the futures of La Russa and superstar Albert Pujols are in doubt. La Russa could retire or he could choose to come back a year at a time, which is what he’d prefer 33 seasons into his amazing career.

Pujols could elect for free agency, though the smart money is on him returning at a discounted deal that would take care of him for the remainder of his career.

“I just want to enjoy this and then make the right decision for me and my family,’’ Pujols said. “I know I’ve never enjoyed my career more than this season with this team.’’

This World Series, however, was about young third baseman David Freese, the hero of the classic Game 6 with a walkoff homer in the 11th after a tying two-run triple in the ninth. Last night, his two-run double in the first erased a 2-0 Texas lead, and after the game he was named series MVP. Freese set a postseason record with 21 RBIs.

“I couldn’t have imagined this in my wildest dreams,’’ said Freese, who said he got no more than an hour of sleep after his Game 6 heroics. “To play in a game like we did in Game 6 with all the comebacks, I couldn’t wait to get back on the field again. I just wanted to soak it all in because you never know if you’ll ever get the opportunity to experience this again.’’

Carpenter, pitching on three days’ rest, gave the Cardinals six-plus innings, allowing two runs and striking out five.

“I was trying to get one out at a time,’’ he said. “I had no idea how long I was going to go. As game went along, my stuff got better, my command got better. This team never gave up. It’s the most amazing team I’ve ever been a part of.’’

Carpenter improved to 3-0 with a 2.00 ERA in four World Series games. He has become the team leader and one of its spokesmen.

Carpenter was one of the vocal veterans at an August meeting when things weren’t going so good. He and Pujols stepped up and said, “I just told them that I thought it was the best group of guys I’ve ever played with. I said we may never win another game but we have to take it one game at a time and play each game the best we can. Little by little it started to build and we started to believe in ourselves and what was possible.’’

Pujols remembers thinking, “If we could just continue to have fun but play the game better every night, this group of guys had a chance to do something special and we did. I’ll never forget this season and the comebacks we had and where we came from to get this. It’s an amazing feeling.’’

Although it was about mainstays such as Pujols, Carpenter and Lance Berkman, it was also about a youngster such as Freese.

The Cardinals broke the 2-2 deadlock in the third on a home run by Allen Craig, who replaced the injured Matt Holliday (right pinkie). The Cardinals added a pair of runs in the fifth, taking advantage of Scott Feldman’s wildness. He walked Yadier Molina and hit Rafael Furcal with a a pitch with the bases loaded.

The Rangers, so explosive and so good all season, seemed to suffer from the wear and tear of Game 6, when twice they were one strike away from being the World Series champions. Instead, they are going home with another World Series loss.

“I told them they were champions,’’ said Rangers manager Ron Washington. “Those guys committed themselves to get here and we just couldn’t pull it off. We got beat by a good club.’’

Nick Cafardo can be reached at cafardo@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @nickcafardo.

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