On two separate occasions, the Texas Rangers found themselves one strike away from their first World Series championship in franchise history.
Instead, David Freese and Lance Berkman have given the hometown St. Louis Cardinals the unlikely opportunity to win Game 7 on Friday at Busch Stadium (8:05 p.m. ET).
After rallying from two-run deficits in the ninth and 10th innings behind Freese's two-run triple and Berkman's RBI single, respectively, Freese — the National League Championship Series MVP — continued his epic post-season by crushing a walk-off home run off reliever Mark Lowe in the 11th to give St. Louis an improbable 10-9 win Thursday.
No team had ever come back twice in the ninth inning or later to tie a World Series game or take the lead.
Now only one of the biggest hitters in the World Series is in wait-and-see mode for Game 7 after suffering an injury Thursday night.
Texas slugger Nelson Cruz strained his groin late in St. Louis' dramatic, come-from-behind 10-9 victory, while Cardinals outfielder Matt Holliday hurt the small finger on his right hand while sliding into third base in the sixth inning.
On Friday afternoon, Holliday was ruled out of Friday's contest, with rookie Adron Chambers taking his spot on the active roster.
Holliday wandered too far off third base in the sixth inning Thursday night. Rangers catcher Mike Napoli leaped from his crouch and fired a throw down the line, and Texas third baseman Adrian Beltre slapped the tag on while guarding the base with his foot.
Holliday's right hand bent at an awkward angle, and he was called out on the play.
Cruz followed a homer by Beltre with one of his own in the seventh inning, but he flied out to right leading off the 11th inning. Cruz could be seen limping down the dugout steps, and Esteban German replaced him in the outfield in the bottom half.
— The Associated Press
"Man that was incredible," said Freese, batting .393 with five homers and 19 runs batted in during these playoffs. "But we fought back, we made some mistakes early on, but the way the Cardinals and we've all have been playing lately, you expect to come back like this. This is just a good feeling and I'm pumped were playing [Friday].
"Just an incredible feeling, seeing all my teammates at the dish waiting for me."
Berkman, whom manager Tony La Russa moved up one spot into the No. 4 hole ahead of slumping Matt Holliday, finished the day 3-for-5 with a homer, four runs scored and three RBIs.
"I'm definitely not loose, I don't think this is fun," Berkman said. "It's obviously fun when you win, but going into the game it's not fun. It's not fun to go up there with a season on the line.
"But you know, I think the experience is incredible."
Holliday has gone 3-for-19 (.158) with no RBIs during the Fall Classic and made two significant blunders Thursday. After dropping a routine fly ball to start the fourth inning, the five-time all-star was picked off third base with the bases loaded in the sixth.
Texas, which snapped a 4-4 tie in the seventh on back-to-back homers from Adrian Beltre and Nelson Cruz as part of a three-run rally, also led 9-7 in the 10th on Josh Hamilton's two-run shot.
"You know, it's not that easy to win a world championship, as we found out tonight," manager Ron Washington said. "We'll bounce back [Friday]. We've been in some tough situations before. We've always responded, and I expect us to respond [Friday]."
While surely hoping it wouldn't come to this, Washington has been adamant about giving the ball to Matt Harrison in Game 7 - even with the extra day off due to Wednesday's rainout.
That additional time off has opened the door for Cardinals ace Chris Carpenter to take the mound. The team confirmed late Friday afternoon that he would make a third start in this World Series.
Carpenter, 3-0 with a 3.30 earned-run average over five post-season starts this season, most recently allowed two runs and six hits while throwing 101 pitches in seven innings of Monday's 4-2 loss in Game 5.
"I learned what my body's going to feel like, what my stuff's going to be like," Carpenter said. "You go out there and you make pitches. We'll see what happens. Everybody's going to be ready tomorrow, I can tell you that."
The 36-year-old right-hander, however, was hit hard in his only appearance on three days' rest. The 2005 NL Cy Young Award winner was tagged for four runs and five hits in just three innings — his shortest outing of the season — during a 5-4 victory in Philadelphia in Game 2 of the NL Division Series.
The only other options La Russa had was Kyle Lohse, who is 0-2 with a 7.82 ERA in the 2011 post-season, and Edwin Jackson, who walked seven in 5 1/3 innings in losing Game 4 to Derek Holland.
'Harrison is my Game 7 pitcher. I am not changing the things that I've been doing all year.'— Rangers manager Ron Washington
Harrison also faltered in that game, yielding five runs — three earned — and six hits in 3 2/3 innings. The left-hander has gone 1-1 with a 5.02 ERA in three starts and four games during the post-season.
"Harrison is my Game 7 pitcher. Harrison has been a big part of this team all year," Washington said Wednesday. "I am not changing the things that I've been doing all year. That's why we are where we are, and that's why I'm saying Harrison."
Washington stood firm in that decision Thursday by bringing in Holland in the sixth inning to help the Rangers out of a bases-loaded jam. Holland, who held the Cardinals to two hits in 8 1/3 innings of that 4-0 Game 4 victory, did allow a homer to Allen Craig in the eighth.
Carpenter has had his way with Michael Young, holding him to just two hits in 12 career at-bats (.167) — including the post-season. Beltre and Mike Napoli, have in contrast, have each gone 4-for-8 with a combined three homers.
Napoli's 10 RBIs are tied for the third-most in a single World Series, and Cruz's eight homers are tied with Barry Bonds (2002) and Carlos Beltran (2004) for the most in a single post-season.
The Rangers haven't suffered back-to-back defeats since a three-game skid Aug. 23-25 against Boston.
The Cardinals are making their record 11th appearance in a World Series Game 7, having gone 7-3 all-time. Though St. Louis, which is seeking its 11th World Series title, lost its last two such contests — in 1985 at Kansas City and 1987 at Minnesota.
With its Game 7 win over Milwaukee in the 1982 Fall Classic, St. Louis started an eight-game winning streak for home teams in seventh games of the World Series. The 1979 Pittsburgh Pirates were the last road team to win a decisive Game 7, beating Baltimore.
The 2002 Anaheim Angels were the last team to win a Game 7, defeating the San Francisco Giants.