A version of this story was published in 2019.
Game 6 of the 2011 World Series is on the short list of craziest games in World Series history, with the Cardinals prevailing 10-9 in 11 innings. The Rangers -- who had lost the World Series to the Giants the previous year -- were on the verge of their first World Series title in franchise history, as they led the Cardinals 7-5 going into the bottom of the ninth.
We won’t give a full recap here -- the key things to remember are that David Freese tied it, Josh Hamilton gave the Rangers the lead again in the 10th, Lance Berkman tied it again, and Freese won it an inning later -- and you can watch the epic ninth inning in the video above.
The game had one other important subplot: Cardinals legend Albert Pujols was heading for free agency that winter, and the end of the World Series would be his last game for St. Louis.
To help remind everyone what made that night so special, we asked 12 MLB.com staffers who were at Busch Stadium that night (as well as one who wasn’t) to share a memory of that legendary game on October 27, 2011. These are their memories.
Jesse Sanchez, National Reporter
I’m from the Dallas-Fort Worth area, where the Texas Rangers reign. My fondest baseball memory is getting tickets to the World Series for my parents in 2010 and 2011 and watching fans like my mother -- Rest In Peace -- love every second of it. I know what it meant to the community to just be in the Fall Classic. It meant everything. The first time the Rangers were one strike away from winning the World Series I remember tweeting something like, “Wake up your kids, Rangers fans, your favorite team is about to make history. You are going to be World Series champs!” I eventually deleted it.
I recall talking to a dejected Adrian Beltre after Game 6. He said he was thinking about how he was going to celebrate the World Series win. Was he going to throw his glove up in the air? Was he going to charge the mound? Was he going to run around the outfield? He did none of it. They lost and then lost Game 7. Texans are a proud group and we always claim big league players -- or anyone, really -- with ties to the Lone Star State. Freese was born in Corpus Christi, Texas. Texans, or at least the ones I knew, stopped claiming him after that game. From that point on, he belonged to St. Louis, the place where he was raised.
Jenifer Langosch, Editor (and one-time Cardinals beat reporter)
My marching orders the night of Game 6 were outlined before Jaime García threw the first pitch: I was to cover the Pujols angle. Free agency was looming for the franchise first baseman, meaning a Rangers win in Game 6 had the potential to make this Pujols’ final game for the Cardinals. That was to be my story that night.
Once the Rangers took a 7-4 lead in the seventh, the end felt near -- for everybody. When Pujols came to bat with two out in the seventh, fans responded with a standing ovation. What went unspoken, but not unrecognized, when he grounded out to end the inning was he might not get another at-bat. I started writing my piece.
Of course, we know now that it wasn’t destined to end that way. Fans gave Pujols two more stirring sendoffs with ovations when he came to the plate with the Cards trailing in the ninth and 10th innings. Yes, they were trying to will their team to a come-from-behind win. But they were also hoping to extend the stay of their superstar. They got both.
I still penned a story about Pujols that night, just not the one I expected. His one-out double in the ninth inning sparked the rally that would make Freese a legend. Afterward, Pujols told reporters that he never let his mind wander to the possibility that this could have been the end. The rest of us couldn’t say the same.
Mark Feinsand, National Reporter (then with the New York Daily News)
I never thought I would see a moment in the World Series like the ones I covered in 2001, my first year on the Yankees beat for MLB.com. Some would surely come close, but the idea of anything topping the two-out, two-strike, ninth-inning home runs hit by Tino Martinez and Scott Brosius against D-backs closer Byung-Hyun Kim seemed implausible. Freese changed all of that.
I was working for the New York Daily News covering the Cardinals-Rangers series in 2011, and when Neftali Feliz had Freese down to his final strike in the ninth, I thought to myself, “It’s pretty cool that the Rangers are about to win their first-ever World Series and I get to be here to see it.” I had already sent in the first version of my game story (central time zones are brutal for newspaper deadlines back east), so I just needed to make sure the 7-5 final score was correct. It was not.
Busch Stadium went bonkers when Freese tied the game with his two-run triple. When Hamilton homered in the 10th, the crowd swayed the other way, stunned that the baseball gods had turned on them so quickly. But the Cardinals tied the game in the 10th and Freese was the hero again in the 11th, sending the series to Game 7 with his walk-off homer. The one quote I remember from the postgame came from Lance Berkman, who said, “If we lose tomorrow night, then this just becomes a nice footnote in history. If we win tomorrow night, then this becomes a pretty big deal." As we now know, it was indeed a pretty big deal.
Matthew Leach, Editor (then Cardinals beat reporter)
I’m kind of at a loss remembering little specifics because every time I think of that game and that week, I think in much bigger terms. I think of the insane moments and games that got the Cardinals there -- from the delayed celebration in Houston at the end of the regular season, to Game 5 in Philadelphia, to the bizarreness of virtually the entire NLCS, to the bullpen phone and to Pujols’ three homers in Arlington. The whole thing was so unlikely that you kind of knew it would have to end this way if they were going to win the whole thing.
When I think of that game in particular I remember that it was, frankly, kind of terrible for about six innings. Sloppy and ugly, and nobody had any idea whatsoever that it was going to turn into an all-time classic. Kind of a disappointment, really, after so much fun stuff had led up to it. Even the tying hit, arguably, happened in part because of a mistake -- Nelson Cruz sure looked like he wanted no part of the wall.
Actually, here’s the best way to sum it up. This is a line from the very first game story I sent that night, in the eighth inning. When I filed this story, it was for a 7-4 Rangers win -- before the Cardinals started coming back, before they tied it up, before the exchange of runs in the 10th, before Freese’s walkoff. Before this game was ever a classic, I wrote this:
“In a game like this, though, good luck finding a single turning point. It was simply one of the strangest World Series games in memory.”
Three innings later, that felt like a pretty good call.
Richard Justice, former MLB.com Columnist (then with the Houston Chronicle)
Freese told his story with emotion and eloquence as we gathered around his locker the night he became a World Series hero for his hometown team. How he was so burned out that he quit baseball after high school, and only then did he begin to understand how much he loved it. How he would never forget the people who had his back along the way (and those that hadn’t). How injuries threatened to derail his Major League career almost before it began. He was 28 years old the night a Cardinals legend was born. First, he lofted a game-tying triple over Cruz’s head in right field, and then he sent the Cardinals to Game 7 with a home run in the 11th. Afterwards, he seemed humbled and not quite able to get his mind around what had happened. No screenwriter could have written it more perfectly.
T.R. Sullivan, former MLB.com Rangers beat reporter
There have been many literary giants who have devoted their prose to baseball: Pulitzer Prize winners, Harvard and Yale scholars, best-selling authors. But only a baseball beat writer can understand what it was like writing under intense deadline pressure that night in Game 6 of the World Series. This is the internet. A story must be ready as soon as the game is over. Rangers going to win 7-5 and their first World Series title ever? Write it well. Freese ties it with a two-out, two-strike triple? Rewrite it. Nothing about lyrical bandboxes or social implications. Write it quick, but with clarity and vigor.
A Hamilton go-ahead home run in the 10th? Now we are talking a Game for the Ages. No writers block allowed. This one has to be great and turned over in 10 minutes. Berkman ties the game in the 10th? The adrenaline is pumping. Then 11th inning, Freese home run. Game over. Rewrite again for the fourth time. Write it fast, turn it in, go downstairs and ask 25 Rangers what it was like to be one strike away from winning the World Series. Another night as a baseball beat writer.
Will Leitch, Columnist (an avowed Cardinals fan, then with New York Magazine)
I was not at Busch Stadium for Game 6 of the 2011 World Series, but I had an excellent excuse: My wife was eight months pregnant with our first child, and not only did I not want to be in a different town than her, I honestly just wanted to stare at her until she felt the slightest twitch so we could sprint to the hospital. Instead, for Game 6, I went to Foley’s, the official Cardinals fan bar of New York City, where Andy Cohen and Jon Hamm scream alongside hundreds of fellow Toasted Ravioli eaters throughout the season. My wife came with me, but, as tends to happen with pregnant women, she got hot and tired, so she decided to go home around the sixth inning. She insisted I stay. I did not argue with her.
I did, however, walk her out to flag a cab, but the bar was so crowded that Foley’s owner had to clear out a spot through a private exit to get us out of there. This caused such a fuss that word spread throughout the bar that the game was so intense that it caused Will Leitch’s wife to go into labor. So when I returned to the bar to watch the rest of the game, people looked at me, aghast, saying things like, “I can’t believe you came back.” "Of course I came back," I said. "Are you watching this freaking game?" Our son didn’t end up being born until November, but I never went back and corrected anybody. I kind of like them all believing the legend. It was that sort of game.
Anthony Castrovince, Columnist
During the World Series, when the number of credentialed media grows significantly, teams are forced to be creative with media seating, creating auxiliary press boxes that are usually situated down the lines. While some in my profession will gripe about this location, I have always kind of enjoyed the different perspective it provided. And on this night, at this epic Game 6 at Busch Stadium, where the makeshift auxiliary press box was similarly situated in the suites overlooking the right-field corner, the sideways sightline turned into a front-row seat for history.
I was mentally preparing to make my move to the freight elevators where my fellow media members and I would be carted like cattle to the bowels of the building for the postgame pressers, and I’ll never forget that image of the ball sailing below us and then over the outstretched glove of Cruz at the warning track, my feeble brain barely able to process the mathematical fact that everybody had scooted home, it was a brand-new ballgame, and my rough draft revolving around the Rangers’ long-awaited triumph had been rendered moot. Just a month removed from the fever dream of that final night of the regular season, when, amid all kinds of craziness, the Cardinals completed their historic Wild Card comeback, here we were again. The rest of the evening is a haze, though I do remember having a computer issue and, as a result, an inordinately difficult time writing my postgame piece on a game that truly defied words.
Jon Paul Morosi, National Reporter
I was working for FoxSports.com at the time and was sitting in the press box with Mark Kriegel, our national columnist. We decided to leave and walk most of the way down before the bottom of the ninth. The trek from the press box to the clubhouses at Busch Stadium is notoriously congested after a playoff game. We wanted to get a head start, so we took the stairs to the first level of the stadium and squeezed into the only place we could find with a view -- near the aisle in the section behind home plate. The momentum of the inning took on a life of its own -- the noise from the fans, the quality of the at-bats. Once Freese’s ball landed beyond Cruz’s glove, the place went delirious. As Freese’s ball went up, I had a feeling that it was going to get over Cruz’s head. There was something about the way it was carrying, and Cruz’s route to it, that made the result predictable from our vantage point. We probably had one of the best views in the entire ballpark and knew a split-second before most everyone else that the game was going to be tied.
After the game, I was standing right in front of Hamilton when one of us asked him about what he’d thought before stepping to the plate in the top of the 10th, when he hit the home run that put the Rangers up again. He said, “I would tell y’all something, but y’all wouldn’t believe me.” I love interviewing Hamilton because, at his core, he is an incredibly candid and sensitive person. After we urged him to go on, that’s when he said: “The Lord told me it was going to happen before it happened. ‘You hadn’t hit a home run in a while. You’re about to right now.’ ... It wasn’t like a premonition: You’re going to do this, and you guys are going to win. [It was], ‘You’re going to do this, period.’”
I’ve often wondered how Hamilton’s career might be viewed differently if the Rangers bullpen had held that lead. Would he have stayed in Texas -- where he was comfortable, then as a world champion -- instead of signing with the Angels a year later? The reality is that a lot of lives and careers changed that night. October is so powerful.
Chris Haft, former MLB.com Reporter
I’ve been fortunate enough to cover four Kentucky Derbies, and those races feature a most wonderful kind of repetitiveness: When those horses hit the top of the stretch, you don’t blink. Or breathe. Or move. Or speak (unless you have a really, really, really big bet down, in which case you’re screaming your head off). Anything can happen, and the delicious tension all but paralyzes you.
That’s how I remember those last three or four innings of World Series Game 6, 2011. To do anything but watch every pitch with laser-like focus meant risking that you’d miss something inconceivable, compelling or just ridiculously thrilling. When the ball sailed over Cruz’s glove, I am pretty sure we already had reached the point where my editor had formed alternatives for me: Execute story plan “A” if Cards win; execute story plan “B” if Rangers win. I have absolutely no recollection of what I wrote. I do remember that I left the ballpark feeling at once drained and energized, prompting me to search for samples of Anheuser-Busch’s most popular products.
Anthony DiComo, Reporter
When you’re a young sportswriter, the idea is to listen more than you talk, to soak in what you can. If I had a chance to chat with a reporter who covered Joe Carter’s walk-off in 1993, or Kirk Gibson’s homer in 1988, or Bill Buckner’s goof in 1986, I asked. I wondered if I would ever cover a World Series that memorable.
Then 2011 happened. It wasn’t much of a natural rivalry pitting the Cardinals against the Rangers, but the games were so good that none of that mattered. When Pujols hit three home runs in Game 3, I remember being floored at the greatness I was watching. For Game 6, I sat with several of my MLB.com teammates in an auxiliary press box down the right-field line. When Freese’s ninth-inning triple landed, that vantage gave us a point-blank view of the bedlam below.
Afterward, I remember Pujols opining that fans -- not just St. Louis fans, but baseball fans around the country -- would remember the game for a long time. It was the history I was hoping I might one day see, and Pujols was right. I certainly haven’t forgotten.
James Banks, Editor
Of all the World Series I’ve covered for MLB.com dating back to 2001, this is the one I remember most vividly. The auxiliary press box was in a loge located just above right field and I distinctly remember looking down and seeing Cruz playing as deep a right field as I’ve ever seen. Rangers closer Feliz had Freese down to his final strike, and then Freese hit a ball to right field and I thought “oh, that’s it,” but somehow -- to this day I still don’t quite know how -- the ball got over Cruz’s head, tipping off his glove and allowing two runs to score. I was dumbfounded, we all were. I would love to see the Statcast data and catch probability on that play, because as I remember it, he was playing almost with his heels on the dirt of the warning track. It just seemed like he froze.