ST. LOUIS — The Rangers' big bats finally came alive.
Too bad for Texas: So did the Cardinals'.
Adrian Beltre and Nelson Cruz hit back-to-back homers Thursday night, and Texas was poised to win its first World Series when Josh Hamilton hit a two-run shot in the 10th inning. But the Cardinals answered the call each time, and David Freese's leadoff homer in the 11th gave St. Louis a stunning 10-9 victory and forced a deciding Game 7 for the first time since 2002.
It'll be played Friday night at Busch Stadium.
"You know, it's not easy to win a world championship, as we found out tonight," Rangers manager Ron Washington said. "We had the right people in the right spot and they beat us."
Texas had built a 7-4 lead in the seventh when 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 World Series cut the gap in the eighth, and the Cardinals tied the game in the ninth when Freese delivered a two-run triple with two outs off Rangers flamethrower Neftali Feliz – universally regarded as one of the best closers in the game.
Hamilton had been quiet most of the series while struggling with a groin injury, but he got the pitch he wanted from Cardinals closer Jason Motte in the 10th. His first homer of the World Series silenced a record crowd of 47,325 that had been rocking after the Cardinals' rally.
"It's about time, that was my first thought," said Hamilton, who finished 3 for 6 with three RBIs and two runs scored. "But you've got to finish the game off and we didn't do that."
Ryan Theriot drove in a run with a groundout in the 10th, and Lance Berkman's two-out single brought in John Jay with the tying run. That set the stage for Freese, whose homer in the 11th off Rangers reliever Mark Lowe set off a raucous celebration on the field.
"A ridiclous game, weird game. But I bet it was fun for the fans," Kinsler said. "The postseason is never easy. We showed that tonight. Got to get the final out."
The celebration on the field looked a lot like the one the Rangers hoped to be enjoying.
"I understand that it's not over until you get the last out," Washington said, "and I was just sitting there praying that we'd get that last out, and we didn't get it. And you have to tip your hat to the Cardinals, the way they fought tonight and took the game from us."
Texas' power surge was as abrupt as the outage it had experienced most of the series.
The Rangers only managed six hits in losing the opener 3-2, and five hits while evening the series with a 2-1 victory in Game 2. Both teams came alive during a Game 3 shootout, but the bats went quiet again over the next two games in Arlington, which Texas eeked out by scores of 4-0 and 4-2.
The lack of offense was surprising given the way the Rangers were built.
With a power-packed lineup, Texas finished second behind the New York Yankees in homers and third behind the Yankees and Boston Red Sox in runs scored this season. Their .283 batting average as a team was the best in baseball.
The Rangers played to formula in the ALCS against Detroit, when Cruz pounded out six homers and drove in 13 runs – both totals the most by any player in any postseason series.
St. Louis largely managed to shut the Rangers down, so they resorted to small ball.
Texas stringed a walk and a couple singles together for a run in the first inning, and then coaxed another run across with a single and double in the second. The Rangers took advantage of errors in the fourth and fifth for two more runs, and the game was tied 4-all when the bats finally awoke.
Beltre was the first to come through, and Cruz and Hamilton eventually joined in the fun.
It was the Cardinals, though, who wound up celebrating at the end.
"I'm not going to lose any sleep over it," Hamilton said. "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. That's just our mentality. But it goes both ways. Seems like they had that mentality, too."