posted on October 17, 2011 00:00
The St. Louis Cardinals led the National League in runs during the regular season. The Milwaukee Brewers led the NL in home runs.
In Sunday's 12-6 Cardinals victory, a win that propelled them to their third World Series in eight years, the two teams combined for plenty of both.
On the strength of NLCS MVP David Freese's three RBIs - including a three-run homer in the first inning that set the tone for the slugfest - the Cardinals scored 12 runs for the second time in the NLCS, showing that the Texas Rangers aren't the only team in the World Series with some offensive firepower.
Freese, in his first NLCS, won the award while hitting .545 with three home runs and nine RBI in the six-game series. According to ESPN baseball research specialist Mark Simon, the only other player to put up those numbers in a playoff series was Lou Gehrig in 1928.
In the process, Freese tied the Cardinals record for RBIs in a postseason with 14, a record previously held by teammate Albert Pujols.
But Pujols recorded his 14 RBIs in 15 postseason games in the 2004 World Series run; Sunday's Game 6 was just Freese's 11th. Nothing is guaranteed, but it seems likely Freese will eclipse that total by the time this World Series is over.
"I think not too many people get a chance to do this in their hometown," Freese said. "And it's an unbelievable feeling. To be a part of this team, this group of guys, this organization, means a lot.
"Mo went to San Diego, Edmonds kind of wanted to go back out West, and we flip-flopped. It's a dream come true to be a part of this organization."
Freese wasn't alone in providing the offensive output, though. The first seven batters in the Cardinals lineup had at least one hit, and three - Freese, Pujols and Rafael Furcal - hit home runs before an out was recorded in the third inning.
What's more, seven different Cardinals combined for 11 RBIs, with only Freese, Pujols and pinch-hitter Allen Craig providing more than one.
It was the exclamation point on a series defined by the two offenses. The teams combined for 68 runs in the six games, and only once did a team's starting pitcher qualify for a quality start. And that starter was Randy Wolf.
The Cardinals rotation's ineffectiveness paved the way for the series' other storyline - the dominance of the Cardinals bullpen.
Game 6 was the crowning achievement of a NLCS in which the bullpen allowed only six runs in 28.2 innings - a combined 1.89 ERA over the six games.
Starter Edwin Jackson struggled early and often, allowing solo shots to right fielder Corey Hart and second baseman Ricky Weeks before giving up a two-run homer to catcher Jonathan Lucroy that cut the Cardinals lead to 5-4 after two innings.
"I was hoping with every bit of my being, because we've seen Edwin just mow clubs down," La Russa said of . "But the first inning they started and -- I think probably the most nervous game I've ever been a part of in the postseason.
The only thing that comes close in '89 we had a 4th game against Toronto where Bob Welch struggled. And that was important. This one, here, you never felt -- we were up 12-6 in that 9th inning, and I was worried they were going to put something together. That's how good they are."
With a lead and the World Series in sight, manager Tony La Russa wasn't going to take any chances. The remaining 21 outs were spread among five different, very familiar faces: six from Fernando Salas; seven from Marc Rzepczynski; two from Octavio Dotel; three from Lance Lynn; and the final three from Jason Motte.
As they've done all series, the bullpen kept the Brewers bats in check and clinched the Cardinals' 18th National League pennant. The one-two punch of Ryan Braun and Prince Fielder, as they've come to be known, were especially dormant in Game 6, going 0-for-8 combined.
Pujols, the one in the Cardinals' one-two(-three) punch, suffered a scare in the bottom of the fifth inning. Braun hit a slow roller up the first base line, forcing Pujols to field the ball himself and attempt to put a tag on the diving Braun. Pujols came up holding his right arm, causing Cardinals Nation to hold their collective breath in the process.
But after a visit from La Russa and the team doctor, Pujols stayed in the game without further incident. After the game, Pujols said the arm was "OK" - not a ringing endorsement by any means, but enough to ease the minds of Cardinals fans. For now, at least.
The Cardinals now turn their attention to the extended punch of a Rangers lineup that hung 15 runs on the Detroit Tigers in Saturday's Game 6 of the ALCS. That lineup, boasting 2010 AL MVP Josh Hamilton, contains the one hitter hotter than Freese in this postseason - outfielder Nelson Cruz. Cruz hit a record six home runs in the ALCS en route to being named the ALCS MVP.
The Cardinals will counter with ace Chris Carpenter in Game 1 on Wednesday and most likely Jaime Garcia in Game 2 Thursday - a situation that will allow Garcia to start twice at home in the World Series.
They'll be opposed by Rangers ace C.J. Wilson and Derek Holland in Games 1 and 2, respectively. Both are left-handed, a particular challenge for the Cardinals in recent years. More to come on that in tomorrow's World Series preview.
But for today, the Cardinals will enjoy a win over a Brewers team that didn't expect to see their NL Central mates in the postseason. And those same Brewers almost certainly didn't expect to be sent home by them.
It's a familiar sentiment for opponents of the 2011 Cardinals.