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ST. LOUIS (AP) - 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.
“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. No team had ever had three blown saves in a World Series game.
“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 for his first hit since Game 3, and Berkman walked on four pitches.
Craig took a called third strike, and Freese fell behind in the count 1-2. Thrown a 98 mph fastball, 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. The ball bounced off the wall.
“I just said, `Heater,”‘ Freese recalled of his guess.
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.”
Singles by Daniel Descalso and Jon Jay off Darren Oliver started the second St. Louis comeback in the bottom half. But when Feldman retired Theriot on a run-scoring grounder to third for the second out, 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 on a 93 mph cutter from Feldman.
“I didn’t quite get it in enough,” Feldman said.
Lowe fell behind Freese 3-0, then worked the count full. Lowe threw a changeup and Freese connected for his fifth postseason homer, a long drive that had half a dozen fans jumping from their seats onto the grass to grab it before the ball even landed.
“He got it,” Lowe said. “Just bad location. It wasn’t the wrong pitch at all in my mind.”
With another game to play, 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, with Freese dropping a popup at third and Matt Holliday flubbing a fly ball to left. Rangers first baseman Michael Young made two errors, with each team allowing two unearned runs.
Much later, Freese ended a night not to be forgotten, almost not to be believed. Lowe turned, watched the ball land, then exhaled. The Rangers trudged off the field, to a quiet clubhouse.
How many chances will they get?
(© Copyright 2011 The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)