Baseball season ends today

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 Cardinals the unlikely opportunity to win Game 7 on Friday night at Busch Stadium.

Most sports books monitored by SportsOptions have installed the Cardinals as $1.35 home favorites, with the total set at eight ‘under’ (minus $1.20).

After rallying from two-run deficits in the 9th and 10th innings behind Freese’s two-run triple and Berkman’s RBI single, respectively, Freese – the NLCS MVP – continued his epic postseason 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.

“Man that was incredible,” said Freese, batting .393 with five homers and 19 RBIs during the postseason. “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, who 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.

Holliday was removed following the play with a bruised right pinkie and is uncertain for Game 7.

Texas, which snapped a 4-all 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 may have opened the door for Cardinals ace Chris Carpenter to take the mound. While all signs point to Carpenter making a third start in this World Series, La Russa did not declare him the starter following Thursday’s win.

Carpenter, 3-0 with a 3.30 ERA over five postseason 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 NLDS.

The only other options La Russa appear to have is Kyle Lohse, who is 0-2 with a 7.82 ERA in the 2011 postseason, and Edwin Jackson, who walked seven in 5 1-3 innings in losing Game 4 to Derek Holland.

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 postseason.

“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 postseason. Beltre and Mike Napoli, have in contrast, have each gone 4 for 8 with a combined three homers.

Napoli’s 10 RBIs for 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 postseason.

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.

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