The Rangers Were Only One Strike Away

One strike away. One strike away.

If the Rangers don't win Game 7, that could become the franchise mantra for years to come, maybe decades.

Instead of popping champagne corks and bringing Texas the title, Neftali Feliz, Scott Feldman and Mark Lowe became a pitching trio that will live in infamy.

Feliz and Feldman came within one strike of finishing off the first World Series championship in the Rangers' 51-season history. But then it all came apart in a stunning finish, leaving Texas 20 hours to recover for the first Game 7 since 2002.

Feliz allowed David Freese's two-run, two-strike triple just over the glove of a leaping Nelson Cruz at the right-field wall, tying the score 7-all in the ninth inning.

Then, after Josh Hamilton's two-run homer against Jason Motte in the 10th inning put the Rangers ahead again, Feldman gave up an RBI groundout to Ryan Theriot in the bottom half followed by Lance Berkman's two-out, two-strike single.

Capping the collapse, Lowe allowed Freese's leadoff homer the landed halfway up the center-field grass in the 11th inning, giving the Cardinals an incredible 10-9 victory Thursday in one of baseball's greatest meltdowns.

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"That," Feldman said, "was definitely up there as one of the craziest games I've seen."

Bill Buckner made only one error as the Boston Red Sox wasted a two-run lead in the 10th inning in Game 6 in 1986.

Don Denkinger blew only one call as the Kansas City Royals rallied to beat the Cardinals in Game 6 in 1985.

This collapse was unprecedented. No team had ever come from behind twice in the ninth inning and later to tie a World Series game or take the lead.

St. Louis became only the third team one out from elimination in the Series to rally and survive, following the New York Giants in Game 5 against the Philadelphia Athletics in 1911 and the New York Mets in the Buckner game in 1986, according to STATS LLC.

"You know, it's not that easy to win a world championship, as we found out tonight," Rangers manager Ron Washington said. "We'll bounce back tomorrow. We've been in some tough situations before. We've always responded, and I expect us to respond tomorrow.

Texas hasn't lost consecutive games since Aug. 23-25. But this will be hard to overcome.

"What happened today, I just think it's -- you had to be here to believe it," Cardinals manager Tony La Russa said.

A sellout crowd of 47,325 at Busch Stadium stayed around long after the final out, cheering and waving white pompoms. It was a famous World Series score, matching Pittsburgh's Game 7 win against the Yankees in 1960 on Bill Mazeroski's ninth-inning home run.

It was the most thrilling Game 6 since Kirby Puckett's 11th-inning homer at the Metrodome propelled the Minnesota Twins over the Atlanta Braves in 1991.

They'll be replaying this one for a long, long time, especially if Texas loses Friday night. Matt Harrison starts for the Rangers, and La Russa won't say which pitcher he'll send to the mound -- ace Chris Carpenter on three days' rest or Kyle Lohse. Home teams have won eight straight Game 7s.

Game 6 will be a classic everywhere but in Texas.

The Rangers built a 7-4 lead in the seventh when Adrian Beltre and Cruz hit consecutive home runs off Lance Lynn, and Ian Kinsler added an RBI single off Octavio Dotel.

Allen Craig's second homer of the Series cut the gap in the eighth against Derek Holland.

In the ninth, Albert Pujols doubled with one out off Feliz, and Berkman walked on four pitches.

Craig took a called third strike, and Freese fell behind in the count 1-2. He sliced an opposite-field drive, and when Cruz jumped, the crowd of 47,315 at Busch Stadium couldn't tell at first whether he caught it.

Feliz then retired Yadier Molina on a flyout to right, sending the game to extra innings.

Hamilton thought he had it won with his first home run in 66 at-bats this postseason.

"It's about time! That was my first thought. But you've got to finish the game off and we didn't do that," Hamilton said. "I'm not going to lose any sleep over it. We're just going to do everything we can to prepare. Guys are already talking about it. We're ready for Game 7. Shake it off and come back tomorrow."

Lowe was somewhat philosophical.

"If you don't want to be in that situation I was in as a pitcher, you're in the wrong business. This is what I've worked for my whole career and I was there, where I wanted to be," Lowe said. "Tomorrow's a new day, and I could get in there and get a big out and nobody remembers this game."

With Texas ahead 3-2 in the Series and one win from its first title, the Rangers also wasted 1-0, 3-2 and 4-3 leads. The Cardinals made three errors in a Series game for the first time since 1943, and Rangers first baseman Michael Young made two, with each team allowing two unearned runs.

Matt Holliday was picked off in the sixth at third base by catcher Mike Napoli, thwarting the Cardinals' attempt to go ahead, and he had to leave the game because of a bruised right pinkie. He might not be able to play Friday.

Hamilton's RBI single put the Rangers ahead in the first against Jaime Garcia, Berkman's two-run homer gave the Cardinals the lead in the bottom half and Kinsler's run-scoring double tied it 2-all in the third.

Cruz reached when Holliday dropped a popup leading off the fourth and came home when Napoli singled for his 10th RBI of the Series. Berkman then got to first on an error by Young starting the bottom half and scored on Molina's grounder.

Freese dropped Hamilton's popup to third leading off the fifth, and Young lined a pitch from Fernando Salas to the gap in left-center for an RBI double. An error by Young on Holliday's sixth-inning grounder was followed by three straight walks, including two by Alexi Ogando.

Given a 7-5 lead, Feliz struck out Theriot for the first out of the ninth, but then gave up a double to Albert Pujols for his first hit since Game 3. Berkman walked and Craig took a called third strike.

With the Rangers ready to celebrate, Freese sliced an opposite-field drive to right. Cruz backed up to near the wall and leaped. At first, it wasn't clear whether he caught it, but it bounced off the fence and Berkman almost caught up with Pujols as they neared the plate.

Feliz recovered to retire Molina on a flyout to right. Then, Elvis Andrus singled with one out in the 10th and Hamilton homered for the first time in 66 postseason at-bats this year.

Texas would close it out this time, right?

Not so fast.

Daniel Descalso singled sharply to right leading off against Darren Oliver, and Jon Jay looped a single to left. Edwin Jackson pinch hit and, in one of those strange moves, Kyle Lohse batted for Jackson and sacrificed -- bunting over Beltre and nearly getting a base hit.

Feldman retired Theriot on a run-scoring grounder to third for the second out, and the Rangers were one out away again.

Pujols was intentionally walked for the fifth time in the Series before Berkman fell behind 1-2, took a ball and then singled to center.

Tie game. Again.

Then came Freese's fifth postseason homer. The Rangers trudged off the field, to a quiet clubhouse.

How many chances will they get?

NOTES: Cruz left in the 11th because of a strained right groin. ... X-rays on Napoli's ankle were negative after he twisted it going into second in the fourth.

Copyright AP - Associated Press
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