October 16, 2011: Cardinals win the National League championship

The St. Louis Cardinals weren’t supposed to be here.

Not after Adam Wainwright went down with a season-ending injury in spring training. Not after they fell 10 games behind the Brewers in the National League Central Division and 10 ½ games behind the Braves in the wild card standings on August 24.

Yet somehow, they had gone 23-9 over their final 32 games to erase the Braves’ advantage and claim the wild card. Then they defeated the Phillies and their vaunted pitching staff in the NLDS. Now, with a 12-6 win in Game 6 of the NLCS over the Central Division champion Brewers, the Cardinals were headed to the World Series for the 18th time in franchise history.

“We had a long road,” said third baseman David Freese, the newly minted NLCS MVP. “We had to take the long way back after falling behind by 10 ½ games. We really had to work for this. We had to have a ton of heart, and this team deserves this reward.”[1]

“Improbably, incredible, overwhelming,” manager Tony La Russa said. “If you never lose your heart, and you keep trying, sometimes you can pull off something like this.”[2]

To pull it off, the Cardinals started right-hander Edwin Jackson, the right-hander they had acquired in a July trade with the Blue Jays that had included seven total players, including 24-year-old center fielder Colby Rasmus, who served as the centerpiece of the Blue Jays’ acquisitions in the trade.

Once in St. Louis, Jackson had gone 5-2 with a 3.58 ERA, helping the Cardinals make their late-season surge. Facing the Phillies in the NLDS, he allowed just two runs in six innings to earn the first playoff win of his career. In Game 2 of the NLCS, he pitched 4 1/3 innings, allowing two runs in a game the Cardinals went on to win 12-3.

The Brewers started right-hander Shaun Marcum, who had struggled in each of his two previous playoff appearances for the Brewers. Despite going 13-7 with a 3.54 ERA in 200 2/3 regular-season innings, Marcum had allowed seven earned runs in 4 2/3 innings in a loss to the Diamondbacks in the NLDS. In Game 2 of the NLCS, the Cardinals roughed up Marcum for five runs in four innings.

Marcum’s struggles only continued in the first inning of Game 6 as Lance Berkman hit an RBI single and Freese followed with a two-out, three-run home run that gave St. Louis a 4-0 lead.

“They were some kind of team in the first inning,” Brewers manager Ron Roenicke said. “We couldn’t get away with anything.”[3]

With his one-inning appearance, Marcum finished with a 14.89 ERA in his three playoff starts, including a 16.20 ERA against the Cardinals.

“I’m not second-guessing anything there,” Roenicke said of starting Marcum. “It was the right decision.”[4]

Corey Hart led off the Brewers’ half of the first inning with a home run to cut the Cardinals’ advantage to 4-1.

In the second, former Cardinal Chris Narveson took the mound for the Brewers. The left-hander, whom the Cardinals had traded to Colorado in 2004 as part of a package for Larry Walker, had started 28 of his 30 appearances during the regular season, going 11-8 with a 4.45 ERA.

Narveson struck out Nick Punto and Jackson before Rafael Furcal hit a solo home run to make the score 5-1.

The Brewers answered with two home runs in the second inning. Rickie Weeks led off the frame with a solo homer, and after third baseman Jerry Hairston reached on an infield single, Jonathan Lucroy launched a two-run homer into the stands to cut the Cardinals’ lead to 5-4.

“When we got it to one run, everybody was excited, but we just couldn’t hold them down,” Lucroy said. “For me, calling pitches, it felt like Lou Gehrig, Babe Ruth, and Ted Williams were all hitting against us. They were hot, real hot.”[5]

Albert Pujols started the Cardinals’ four-run third-inning rally with a line-drive home run. With the bases loaded, Punto hit a sacrifice fly to score Matt Holliday. After LaTroy Hawkins replaced Narveson on the mound, pinch-hitter Allen Craig hit a two-run single that extended the Cardinals’ lead to 9-4.

Fernando Salas entered the game in relief of Jackson and retired the side in order in the third, but allowed an RBI double to Yuniesky Betancourt in the fourth inning.

The Cardinals continued to add runs against the Brewers’ bullpen in the fifth inning. After Holliday and Freese each singled to begin the inning, Yadier Molina hit a ground ball to Hairston at third base. Hairston misplayed the ball, allowing Holliday to score, and two batters later, pinch-hitter Adron Chambers hit a sacrifice fly that scored Freese and extended the Cardinals’ lead to 11-5.

The Brewers added one more run in the sixth off St. Louis reliever Marc Rzepczynski and Pujols added an RBI single in the eighth to make the final score 12-6.

“Did they do anything wrong in this series?” Roenicke asked.[6]

Freese, who had gone 3-for-4 with three RBIs and three runs scored in the game, was named the NLCS MVP after going 12-for-22 (.545) with three doubles, three homers, and nine RBIs in the series.

“It means the world to me,” Freese said. “Not too many people get a chance to do this in their home town. It’s an unbelievable feeling. To be a part of this group of guys and this organization, it’s a dream come true.”[7]

Rzepczynski was credited with the win after throwing 2 1/3 innings of relief. Lance Lynn threw a scoreless eighth inning and Jason Motte shut the door in the ninth. When Motte struck out Mark Kotsay to end the game, he received a big hug from Molina.

“When I heard that ‘strike three’ called I looked at Yadi behind the plate and he’s standing there with his hands stretched out wide, so I figured I’d do the same thing,” said Motte, who threw the final inning in each of the Cardinals’ four wins in the series.[8]

For the series, the Cardinals’ bullpen had thrown 28 2/3 innings, more than the 24 1/3 innings thrown by St. Louis starting pitchers. Despite the workload, they posted a 1.88 ERA while holding the Brewers to just a .155 batting average.

“I wish I could chop the award up into pieces and give it to the bullpen. They deserve it,” Freese said.[9]

Pujols, Holliday, and Molina each had two hits in Game 6. For the series, Pujols went 11-for-23 (.478) with two homers and nine RBIs. Holliday was 10-for-23 (.435) with a homer and five RBIs, and Molina was 8-for-24 (.333) with two RBIs.

Now, they looked to carry that momentum into the World Series, where they were set to face the American League champion Texas Rangers.

“They earned this. They deserved this. And they will always be remembered for this,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch columnist Bernie Miklasz wrote.[10]

Enjoy this post? Find similar stories listed by decade or by player.

[1] Bernie Miklasz, “A memorable journey,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, October 17, 2011.

[2] Bernie Miklasz, “A memorable journey,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, October 17, 2011.

[3] Joe Strauss, “Redbirds win slugfest; Freese earns MVP honor,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, October 17, 2011.

[4] Dennis Punzel, “Fright from the start,” Wisconsin State Journal, October 17, 2011.

[5] Dennis Punzel, “Fright from the start,” Wisconsin State Journal, October 17, 2011.

[6] Joe Strauss, “Redbirds win slugfest; Freese earns MVP honor,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, October 17, 2011.

[7] Dan O’Neill, “MVP Freese says winning is a dream,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, October 17, 2011.

[8] Bryan Burwell, “Improbably pennant wasn’t easy for Cards,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, October 17, 2011.

[9] Joe Strauss, “Redbirds win slugfest; Freese earns MVP honor,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, October 17, 2011.

[10] Bernie Miklasz, “A memorable journey,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, October 17, 2011.

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