September 21, 2011: David Freese’s game-winning home run pulls Cardinals within 1 1/2 games of the Braves

David Freese made a habit of coming through with big, two-out hits in the fall of 2011. While Freese stunned the Rangers – and all of baseball – with his clutch performance in the World Series, the Cardinals got their first glimpse of Freese’s penchant for the dramatic on September 21, when his three-run home run helped to pull the Cardinals just 1 ½ games out of the National League wild card spot.

Heading into that contest, the Cardinals remained 2 ½ games behind the Braves. St. Louis swept Atlanta in a three-game series earlier that month, part of a 13-5 run since the start of September. The Braves, meanwhile, were 8-12 in September.

With just eight games remaining on the schedule, the Cardinals needed every win they could get. For the Wednesday evening start against the Mets, St. Louis turned to left-hander Jaime Garcia, who entered the contest with a 12-7 record and 3.59 ERA over 183 innings. The 24-year-old southpaw placed third in the NL Rookie of the Year Award voting the previous year.

The Mets, who were out of playoff contention with a 73-81 record, answered with Chris Schwinden, a 24-year-old rookie making the third start of his career. Schwinden was still pursuing his first win after taking the loss in both his previous appearances.

It didn’t appear likely that he would get that win in the early-going. Schwinden retired the first two batters he faced before Albert Pujols smacked a double into the right-field gap. Schwinden intentionally walked Lance Berkman before Freese tripled down the right-field line to drive in two runs. An inning later, Allen Craig added an RBI single to make it 3-0.

In the top of the third, Schwinden started a four-run rally when he reached on an infield single. Jose Reyes doubled and two runs scored on an error by Cardinals shortstop Rafael Furcal. After David Wright singled, pinch hitter Josh Satin doubled to left field  to score two more runs and give the Mets a 4-3 lead.

From there, Schwinden and Garcia took control of the game, as each pitcher retired eight consecutive batters at one point.

“What Jaime did to keep his concentration and keep competing was as impressive as anything he’s done for a couple of years,” Cardinals manager Tony La Russa said, “and he’s done a lot of impressive things.”[1]

Relief pitcher Miguel Batista entered the game for the Mets in the seventh and retired Furcal and Craig before Pujols singled up the middle. Mets manager Terry Collins turned to left-hander Danny Herrera to pitch to the left-handed hitting Lance Berkman, but the 35-year-old veteran slapped a single to left field.

With Freese coming to the plate, Collins again went to his bullpen, this time calling upon right-hander Pedro Beato. Once again, the move was unsuccessful. Ahead in the count 3-1, Freese launched an opposite-field, three-run homer over the right-field wall to put the Cardinals ahead, 6-4.

“I tried to go fastball low and away,” Beato said. “I was behind in the count and trying not to walk him in that situation. I left the pitch right out over the middle of the plate and he took a good swing at it.”[2]

It was Freese’s 10th home run of the season.

“I had a feeling he was going to get it done right there,” Berkman said. “He is a really big-money player. He’s clutch. Whatever ‘it’ is, he’s got it. You don’t see ‘it’ in everybody.”[3]

The graduate of Lafayette High School in nearby Wildwood acknowledged the fans with the first curtain call of his career.

“As a kid in St. Louis growing up you watch Big Mac (Mark McGwire) do them, and you watch Albert do them, but going out there and the fans wanting you? That was special, very special,” Freese said. “Obviously the biggest hit of my career. Getting that win was huge. Getting it down to 1 ½ is a big leap from 2 ½. Losing is not an option, and we know that.”[4]

Garcia retired the first two batters he faced in the eighth before the Cardinals turned to their closer, Jason Motte, to strike out Wright and end the inning. Willie Harris hit a home run in the ninth to pull the Mets within a run, 6-5, but Motte struck out Josh Thole for his eighth save of the season.

“They got a good team,” Collins said. “The lineup’s tough. … They’ve got a lot of weapons. Coming off the bench they got speed and defense.”[5]

With the Braves’ 4-0 loss to the Marlins that evening, the Cardinals had just pulled within 1 ½ games of the wild-card playoff spot with seven games remaining.

“We haven’t done anything yet,” Berkman said. “We’ve made it awful close.”[6]

Garcia claimed his 13th win of the season, allowing four unearned runs on six hits. He finished the game with five strikeouts, giving him 151 for the season and making him the first left-hander to reach 150 strikeouts in a season since Rick Ankiel struck out 194 in 2000.[7]

Freese, meanwhile, finished the game 2-for-4 with five RBIs. He finished the regular season with a .297/.350/.441 batting line, including 10 homers and 55 RBIs. Of course, he had reserved his biggest hits for the postseason, earning NLCS and World Series MVP awards while helping to lead the Cardinals to their 11th world championship in franchise history.

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[1] Derrick Goold, “Cardinals are hot on Braves’ heels,”

[2] Associated Press, “Cardinals narrow deficit,” Decatur Herald and Review, September 22, 2011.

[3] Derrick Goold, “Cardinals are hot on Braves’ heels,”

[4] Derrick Goold, “Cardinals are hot on Braves’ heels,”

[5] Associated Press, “Cardinals narrow deficit,” Decatur Herald and Review, September 22, 2011.

[6] Derrick Goold, “Cardinals are hot on Braves’ heels,”

[7] Associated Press, “Cardinals narrow deficit,” Decatur Herald and Review, September 22, 2011.

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