One strike away. Twice.
"We thought we had them twice," said reliever Scott Feldman, who gave up the second game-tying hit in the 10th inning. "But they're not just going to roll over and give up. They battled and they were able to get it done tonight."
There could be no question about that after Thursday night. And once there wasn't a lead to save, it was one swing and a painful loss for the Rangers, as David Freese deposited a changeup from right-hander Mark Lowe onto the hill beyond the center-field fence at Busch Stadium to cap off a remarkable 10-9 comeback victory in 11 innings to set up a deciding Game 7 on Friday.
But this game didn't just come down to that one pitch. A World Series clinching victory was in the hands of the Rangers' most capable relief hands -- twice. And it slipped away, historically.
Unable to save the day
Never before had a team scored in the eighth, ninth, 10th and 11th innings, which means never before had a bullpen allowed runs in those innings, either. While the one in the eighth certainly made a difference, the ones in the final three innings were the stuff out of a Hollywood script -- a horror flick for the Rangers' relief corps, which saw three different relievers suffer a World Series-record three blown saves in one game.
Take One: Closer Neftali Feliz had some control problems in the ninth after entering with a two-run lead, and he had allowed the tying runs on base with one out. But after a strikeout of Allen Craig, he had Freese down 1-and-2.
One strike away.
"Feliz throws 98 [mph]. It was a fastball away," said catcher Mike Napoli. "He got his barrel to the ball and got a hit."
It was a triple over the head of Cruz in right field, and as Albert Pujols and Lance Berkman rounded the bases to tie the game, the rafters shook at Busch Stadium. Feliz got the final out to strand Freese at third, but the damage was done.
"We'll take Feliz out there any day," Napoli said of the team's closer, who did not make himself available to the media afterwards. "We've got his back, and I hope the situation comes up where he's back in there tomorrow."
Said manager Ron Washington: "We went into the ninth inning, had the right guy up there, one pitch, one out away. Got to give Freese credit."
Take Two: After Josh Hamilton's two-run homer in the top of the 10th had delivered yet another counterpunch in a night full of them, it was up to 41-year-old veteran lefty Darren Oliver to close it down. But Daniel Descalso and Jon Jay both singled, bringing the potential winning run to the plate. A bunt by Kyle Lohse moved both runners into scoring position, and Washington turned to Feldman to get it done.
A chance for Oliver, drafted by the Rangers in 1988, to be the last-out hero was lost.
"It would have been great to be the last guy out there," Oliver said.
Said outfielder David Murphy: "At that point, it seemed like storybook. Then it was just as surprising as the first time."
Feldman also came within a strike of being that guy who celebrates in the middle of the infield. But after the Cardinals scored one run on a groundout and Feldman gave Pujols a free pass, Berkman put together a highly professional at-bat as expected and fought off an inside cutter to put the ball in the outfield and score Jay.
"That pitch there, I just didn't get it in enough and he was able to get enough of it to knock it into center field," Feldman said.
Said Napoli: "It jammed him, but he was able to get it out to the outfield. In a perfect world, we'd have liked to get it in a little more, but he's a good hitter and he got it done."
Feldman got the last out of the inning on a groundout. But that would be the last out the Rangers would record on the night.
Take Three: This time, the Rangers didn't punch back in the top of the 11th, and Lowe came out of the bullpen for the second time in the World Series and second overall in the postseason.
Once again, two strikes, this time a full count. Once again, the Cardinals did the improbable, and Busch Stadium shook before Freese's ball cleared the fence, which it did by plenty, off a 90-mph changeup from Lowe.
"I can't take that pitch back," Lowe said. "That's the pitch I wanted to throw. I just left it up a little bit, and he got it."
And now a bullpen corps that was as shell-shocked as any in World Series history has to turn the page and be prepared for anything once Game 7 rolls around.
"We're just going to have to flush it and come out tomorrow and play like it's the last game of the season, which it is, and just leave it all on the field," Feldman said.
John Schlegel is a national reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.