I was at Game 6 of the 2011 World Series.
That’s all one needs to say in St. Louis to strike up a conversation with a stranger (with the exception of, “Where did you go to high school,” which, if you don’t know what I’m talking about, then visit St. Louis and see how long it takes ’til someone asks you).
Over a year later and I still cannot comprehend it. I’m not one to believe in the idea that everything happens for a reason, but if there was ever a string of events that would prove otherwise, it would be my October 27th, 2011.
Perhaps the Moirai [ Clotho, Lachesis and Atropos] favored me that night. Perhaps it was fate in its truest form.
* * * * * * * * * * *
Unable to find any affordable tickets online for Game 6 that night, I found myself in my buddy’s basement drinking beer among friends who suffered the same fate as me. That fate was us being relegated to a bar downtown to watch the game.
Sitting and discussing the 3-2 Series at hand and Cardinal postseasons of the past, we began to tell tales of the postseason history we each had witnessed at Busch Stadium, New and Old. Rick Ankiel’s meltdown. Brian Jordan’s Game 4 homer in ’96.
I interjected and said, “Game 6 in ’04, Edmonds.”
That got some attention because nobody else in the room had been at that game. It was one of the greatest Cardinals postseason moments in our lifetime, being that we were merely a quarter of a century old. I was shocked. It was hard for me to believe that none of them had been there.
It is little moments like this one which truly make me appreciate my parents and all that they do for my siblings and I.
Now, my family is not the wealthiest, but one thing that is always looked upon as a worthy expenditure is Cardinals playoff tickets. Then again, our family is not like other families. We were programmed from birth by our father to bleed Cardinal Red. He instilled in us a passion for the Cardinals, and more so for the game of baseball. For that, I am forever grateful. I memorized Terrence Mann’s speech from Field of Dreams when I was 10 for God’s sake. Had I been born into a baseball family on the North side of Chicago, I can only assume that I would have grown to resent my father for his manipulative ways.
My Dad had an extra ticket for Game 6 of the NLCS in 2004.
My Mom passed on the ticket so that one of her baseball obsessed children could go.
My older brother, Joe, was at college.
The ticket trickled down to me.
October 20, 2004 – Game 6 Astros v Cardinals
Cards were down 3 games to 2 against the Astros in the NLCS. My cousin John and I sat in the upper deck just above the box my Dad was in. The game went into the 11th when my Dad called me and yelled into his phone over the crowd,
“If it goes into the 12th, you and John need to come down to my box! John’s uncle Tommy is in the box next to us too!”
Once the final out of the 11th was made we raced to the suite level where one half inning later I experienced something I never had before- A man-made earthquake.
Only a few things in sports give me instant chills. Watching the replay of that Edmonds home run is one of them.
The picturesque swing.
The arms in the air.
The deafening noise.
Being with my Dad.
As I finished recounting my experience at Game 6 in ’04 and everyone began talking again my phone
rang. My Dad, who was going to the game that night, was calling. I picked it up.
“Where are you?”
“Tony’s basement, waiting to go to a bar to watch the game.”
“I have a ticket for you. If you want it you better get your ass downtown!”
I shot up like I sat on a stove. I hurriedly said to the room, whom I was just commiserating with about not being able to be at Game 6,
“My Dad has a ticket for me, I gotta go!”
Without even waiting for a response, I downed my can of Busch Bavarian and was off. I drove downtown as quickly as possible. I found a spot to park in a sketchy back alley blocks from the stadium. I gave my car a 50% chance of being stolen. I didn’t care. I ran all the way up 7th Street past Stan’s statue, hanging a right onto Clark. The game had already started and the crowd was raucous as only St. Louis fans can be. Out of breath, I spotted my Dad waiting to hand off my ticket through the iron gate. Once inside there was no time for pleasantries. We hurried up to our seats in 268 down the left field line.
From then on the game was a blur. An emotional roller coaster.
- Hamilton’s RBI single in the top of the 1st.
- Berkman’s 2 out 2 run homer in the 1st to take the lead.
- Holliday and Furcal’s dropped ball in the 4th.
- Salas’s sailed throw into center.
- Michael Young’s botched plays at first.
- Freese’s ball off his head.
A poorly played game through 6 innings, but the 7th inning marked the beginning of a new ballgame.
Beltre hits a homer, but not to be outdone, Cruz smashes a bullet past our section and into the LF upper deck. That home run killed the crowd.
The Texas fans began the chirping and taunts.
Now, I was raised Catholic, but I don’t go to church every Sunday. That is not to say that I don’t believe in anything or that I won’t ever reconnect with God, but going to Catholic schools from preschool through college made me wonder if I had been brainwashed by the Catholic Church in the same fashion my father had done to us with Cardinals baseball.
I had not prayed in years.
That night, I prayed.
Not to God, but to my Grandma, who had died before I was even born.
I don’t know why or what compelled me, but in the bottom of the seventh I began saying Hail Marys to myself before every pitch, inaudible to everyone around me. I was like a duck on the water; calm on the outside, but racing underneath the surface. My right hand had found the rally towel stuffed in my right jacket pocket and began thumbing it feverishly.
For me, this game was torture. I was there in 2004 and had to watch the Red Sox end their curse on our field. As if that wasn’t enough Jimmy Fallon and Drew Berrymore were also prancing all over the field filming for that Fever Pitch movie that nobody in St. Louis saw. I would not be able to handle being present when a team that has never won a Series celebrated their first one in our stadium again. As an ex-ballplayer I am superstitious and was already blaming myself for the impending loss. It couldn’t be my Dad’s fault because he wasn’t at Game 4 in ’04 and my whole family was there in ’06 when we won while I watched in a dingy college dorm down in Mobile, AL.
So I kept praying.
Bottom of the 8th.
7-4 Texas with 5 outs to go. Allen “Torty” Craig “did it for Torty” (if you don’t know about Allen Craig’s Do it for Torty story, Google it or click the link) his tortoise in the biggest way possible. He hit a home run to left that cut the deficit to 2. We had life, but with the bases loaded Furcal grounded out to the pitcher.
Pujols’s roped double and Berkman’s walk had the crowd in a frenzy. My right hand was clammy with sweat by this point from thumbing the towel in my pocket. After Craig struck out to put us down to our last out, in stepped David Freese.
It was as if everything that had happened up till now was preparing and building for this watershed moment.
David, a hometown kid who grew up idolizing the same Cardinals that I did; who quit the game only to return and be acquired via trade with the Padres by his Cardinals; having already won the NLCS MVP, now stood on the verge of history.
Who did the Cardinals trade in order to get Freese from the Padres?
With two strikes he smoked the ball into right. I thought it was gone, but hesitated to celebrate when my eyes went from the ball to Nelson Cruz. He looked like he had a beat on it, but he had initially taken a step forward before going back. When he jumped up for the ball the whole stadium held its breath. As soon as the ball hit the wall past the outstretched glove of Cruz, the place exploded! For the first time since the 7th, I took my hand off my rally towel to celebrate with my Dad and everyone around us. We were one strike from death and we had tied it.
No words in the English language, or any language for that matter, could express the scene as Pujols and Berkman rounded the bases and Freese slid headfirst into third. There was still work to be done though.
Going into the 10th tied at 7 apiece, we felt we could do it. That is until Hamilton smashed a 406 foot 2-run home run.
The crowd was silenced once again, and the Rangers fans could be heard.
Being superstitious, I fell back into my routine of Hail Marys and thumbing my rally towel. The bottom of the 10th was do or die. Again.
Overlooked by many was the importance of Descalso and Jon Jay’s singles to lead off the inning. After a Kyle Lohse sacrifice, a Theriot RBI groundout and an intentional walk to Pujols, Berkman found himself at the plate with 2 outs and 2 strikes. We were once again one strike away from elimination. Then, as if it was nothing Berkman drove a ball into center to score the tying run.
As Joe Buck put it, “They. Just. Won’t. Go. Away.”
After Jake Westbrook got out of the top half of the 11th without allowing a run, we had to capitalize. This team couldn’t keep producing miraculous comebacks like this could they?
The anticipation in the stadium was palpable going into the bottom half of the 10th when David Freese stepped to the plate.
This 47,325 seat roller coaster of a game would be rendered meaningless without a win. What happened next has been well documented by sportswriters across the country and the globe.
With a 3-2 count, Mark Lowe delivered a fastball-belt high on the inner half of the plate. As soon as Freese made contact, my Dad and I knew instantly that it was gone. Our yelling was instantaneously joined by the rest of the crowd. The place erupted into something between pandemonium and bedlam as the ball landed in the grassy area just beyond the centerfield fence.
Everyone was hugging everyone and going crazy as if they just witnessed….well, witnessed nothing that has ever been seen before on a ball field. It was beyond incredible what we had just witnessed, and once again I was there because of my Dad.
Watching replays of David’s home run has been placed next to Edmond’s home run on my short list of memories that never fail to give me instant chills and produce a smile on my face.
Even Freese never thought he’d be in the same company as Edmonds, listen to the video.
Perhaps it was coincidence that I was given the opportunity to witness two of the greatest Cardinal moments in my lifetime.
That for the second time in my life I felt the stadium shake beneath me. For the second time I was with my Dad acting as if we were kids again.
As a hopeless romantic and a baseball fan, I cannot chalk up that night to coincidence.
That night was a team willing itself to victory.
That night was a St. Louis kid becoming the hometown hero that we all dreamt of being.
That night was a father and son.
That night was fate.
Looking back on it all, the parallels and connections between Edmonds and Freese are eerie. Getting over the fact that Edmonds was dealt to the Padres for a young Freese, both Game 6 walk-offs came in extra innings and forced a Game 7. Even the home run calls on TV both included, “We will see you tomorrow night,” one of which was delivered by Jack Buck’s son, Joe Buck paying homage to his late father’s famous ’91 World Series call of Kirby Puckett’s World Series winning home run. Recounting these events is so surreal that I would not bat an eye if I saw Ray Liotta stealthily emerge from the shadows of the treeline just outside my window, ball glove in tow.