Continued from page 1

Exactly a month before the Cardinals won their 11th championship, they clinched a playoff spot on the final day of the regular season. The night of Sept. 28 was riveting — St. Louis capped a comeback from 10½ games down to overtake Atlanta for the NL wild card, Tampa Bay completed its late surge to beat out Boston for the AL wild card.

The playoffs produced their moments, too. The one that brought winning and losing into a tight focus: Chris Carpenter and the Cardinals celebrating their 1-0 win over Roy Halladay in Philadelphia while star slugger Ryan Howard writhed on the ground, having torn his Achilles tendon during a game-ending groundout.

Soon after, the first Game 7 in the World Series since 2002.

“Somebody said on television, baseball has had a coming-out party since Labor Day. I don’t think so. I think it’s always there,” Selig said. “It’s produced for this country really a remarkable chain of events.”

In a year punctuated by historic comebacks and epic collapses, it’d be easy to say the biggest rally of all belonged to baseball. That’s what many like to say whenever the game shows up well.

Is it true, will that be so?

Selig insists the sport already is more popular than ever. Major league attendance slightly increased this season, ending three seasons of drops. The Chicago Cubs have renewed hope for next year after hiring Theo Epstein to oversee the club, a new ballpark is waiting in Florida for the team that will soon officially become the Miami Marlins.

Certainly a back-and-forth World Series boosted interest, helped by the two most magical words in sports: Game 7.

“There isn’t anybody on this team, the other team, too, that when you’re a young kid you don’t think about winning the World Series, and it’s always in Game 7,” La Russa said.

Freese delivered the key hit, a two-run double that tied it in the first inning. The MVP of the NL championship series wound up adding the World Series MVP trophy.

He saved the Cardinals’ season in Game 6, lining a two-strike, two-out, two-run triple in the ninth and then hitting a winning home run in the 11th.

An inning before Freese connected, Hamilton homered to put Texas ahead. Had the Rangers held on, mostly likely Mike Napoli would’ve been picked the Series MVP. So, so close.

Freese estimated he got about 45 minutes of sleep as Thursday night turned into Friday. A lot to think about for a player who quit baseball out of high school because it wasn’t fun anymore. From done to donating his bat and jersey to the Hall of Fame.

“I’m trying to soak this all in,” he said. “I’ve tried to soak in this whole postseason as much as I can because you never know if it’s your last attempt at a title.”