Down to his last strike, David Freese became an unlikely World Series hero for the St. Louis Cardinals

Editor's note: This story was originally published on December 13, 2011. Watch the replay of Game 6 of the 2011 World Series, between Texas Rangers and St. Louis Cardinals, on Tuesday at 7 pm ET on ESPN and on the ESPN app.

At 1 in the morning. IN A FREE MORNING in St. Louis, David Freese waits on the downtown sidewalk while an autograph candidate returns to the car to look for a Sharpie. Freese and several friends had just left a bar that was half empty when they arrived an hour earlier, but increased when customers started texting their friends that the local MVP boy from Lafayette High-turned-World Series was there. When he sat on a corner stool in jeans and a button for drinking iced water through a straw, the room closed over him. Suddenly, he was in the center, surrounded by fans, many of them intoxicated, getting closer for a photo, a handshake or a chance to tell the story of where they were when he hit the triple and then the place that saved the cardinals & # 39; station. "It's crazy. A few months ago, nobody knew who he was," said Freese's close friend Mark Sanders as he watched the scene unfold.

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It's only been a month since Freese's historic postseason took the Cards to the 11th league, so his friends are still getting used to the idea that he belongs to St. Louis – now and probably forever. When baseball historians look back on 2011, they will discover a season defined by the teams' unbelievable returns until the last attacks. If you look more closely, you will discover that the unlikely hero in the midst of this resilience narrative has been rehearsing his role since he faced the idea of ​​becoming an adult. "For many reasons, I shouldn't be there," said the 28-year-old third baseman in an interview at Busch Stadium earlier in the day. "I shouldn't even be in this game."

Apparently, Freese is referring to the three alcohol-related arrests in the past nine years, but in fact he is talking about the battle he has fought with a part of himself for much longer. It is the private struggle that makes it impossible for him to take part in his new fame for granted. In the midst of a whirlwind of media demands, including a visit to the Tonight Show and a performance at the CMA Awards, he devotes some time on his walk to the clubhouse to greet all the stadium workers he passes by his name. He insists he still has a hard time believing that a reporter would fly 3,000 miles to speak to him. He says he doesn't want this article to focus on his past mistakes, but during an hour-long conversation, he can't stop circulating back to them. The wounds are too new to be ignored, and it is impossible for him to fully describe what it is like to be on top of the world without placing him in the context of how his life has changed dramatically.

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Without saying this directly, he warns against telling his story, so that it is easy to close. Starting with baseball itself. He admits that he did not always love him and, at times, retreated simply because it was an imposed structure. Always a fan of Cardinals, he soured at playing the game as a teenager and dropped out after the last year, refusing a scholarship to play at the University of Missouri and opting to enroll as a regular student. He promised Sigma Alpha Epsilon and, like many 18-year-olds, developed a fondness for parties. "My GPA was brutal and I was going the wrong way," says Freese. "Baseball was in the rearview mirror."

Then, he left Mizzou after a year, moved home with his parents and applied for a position at the St. Louis Community College-Meramec coach. Just as he was getting back on track in the fall of 2002, he was hit with his first DUI. "It was awful, because things haven't really changed," says Freese. But he got attached to the game. Sanders, who also played baseball, met Freese and was impressed by his instincts. In a summer ball game, they faced a jar with a filthy slider and, after two clubs, Sanders attacked twice, very much mistaken. Freese was 2 to 2 with two doubles. "So I asked him: & # 39; Is this guy tipping? How are you doing this? & # 39;", says Sanders. "And he tells me he's listening to the way the Seeker's equipment squeaks to find out if he's riding inside or outside." Sanders followed his lead and on his next club he drew a double.

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After two years in Meramec, Freese left home for southern Alabama and played well enough to be named Player of the Year at the Sun Belt Conference in 2006. The Fathers chose him in the ninth round, just before the Cardinals could take him . "They chose our pockets," says Jeff Luhnow, a former Cards executive who was hired as the Astros GM on December 11, 2011. "He was always a guy we liked, so we kept an eye on him." When the priests called the cardinals about central defender Jim Edmonds a year and a half later, St. Louis asked for Freese. An agreement was reached and John Mozeliak, the Letters manager, called Freese to inform him that he would be coming home. "I was sitting in a Burger King and I examined the call because I didn't recognize the number," says Freese. "When I heard the message, I thought it was a friend playing with me."

He finally called back, spent most of the next two seasons with the Cardinals Memphis Triple-A team and went into 2010 projected as the Cardinals' third baseman. Then, during the off-season, he was accused of according to DUI. (A public poisoning fee two years earlier had been withdrawn.)

When asked about details of the road he was on, Freese refuses to answer. He makes it clear that he was embarrassed and disturbed by the incident, enough that he did something behind the scenes to turn the script. He credits Matt Holliday. After the DUI, the Cardinals defender told Freese, who is single and prefers to live alone, stay with him, that he would not let him spoil his gift. Last season, the two were always together, hitting, getting up and leaving Holliday's house. They talked about life, relationships, busting and putting evil behind you. "That was the best thing, because I had a model to learn daily," says Freese, who is not drinking now. "He's an older brother to me – a great teammate, person, everything. He's a big reason for me to stay in this game." Holliday says he put Freese under his wing mainly because he liked him. "He has had some adversity, to be sure, but he is a good person and a discreet and humble man to whom people are drawn," says Holliday. "He has matured and recognizes what is important."

Throughout his trials, there was never any doubt that Freese could hit a baseball hard. He is tall (6 & # 39; 2 ") and slim for a third baseman, with a quick stick and a decent pop. In 604 careers, he is hitting a solid .298 / .354 / .429 with 15 HRs and 98 RBIs. But weird injuries kept him out of the game for about half of his three major league seasons. In 2009, he had surgery on his left ankle. In 2010, when a rehabilitation task took him to Double-A, he was around the third base and blew up his right ankle it was so bad that he needed reconstructive surgery that took eight months to heal. The doctors released him for spring training in February, but said they wished his wheel had two more. months to recover. Don't worry: a quick ball in his hand on May 1, he lost a lot. "Breaking my hand allowed me to play in the postseason," says Freese. "My ankles need to recover. Funny how things work. "

You will have to excuse the Phillies, Brewers and Rangers pitchers for not laughing after Freese attacked them with a .397 / .465 / .794 line with five home runs, while setting or tying playoff records with 21 RBIs, 50 bases totals and 25 hits. After going 1-to-9 with six vs. strikeouts. Roy Halladay, Cliff Lee and Cole Hamels in the first three games of the National Division series, Freese experienced a brain click in game 4 that changed the story. In his first attack, he was late in a Roy Oswalt out of speed and knew he had no chance of reaching his ball fast. Watching a video at the Busch club, Freese realized that the problem was that he was not planting his front foot fast enough. "From that moment on, everything took off," he says. Then he doubled over to give the cardinals the lead in the main game. On the sixth, he hit a spot to seal it.

Two hits to help knock out the Phillies would be enough to raise Freese to pin-up status in St. Louis, obsessed with baseball, but he didn't finish. World Series game 6 will play as long as people look for poetry in sports, but it sure got off to a bad start. The error-prone cardinals made three mistakes in the first five rounds, including a lazy pop-up in which Freese took off his hat. After the incidents and injuries, a baseball for the kangaroo during the biggest game of his life seemed appropriate. "When the ball bounced off my head, the front page is flashing in my head, saying: Hometown boy blows," recalls Freese.

When the bottom of the ninth started with the cardinals below two and Happy Neftali on the hill, it seemed that all that was left was the feathers. With two and one out, Freese watched from the circle on deck as Allen Craig started looking. "I'm going straight to the point, wow, what an amazing place to be, having never faced Feliz in my life, and this guy is just plain nasty," says Freese. The powerful flame-thrower started Freese with two sliders. "I'm thinking, this is not fun," he says. Freese went through the third shot, a fast ball that allowed him to adjust his time. Below 1 and 2, he looked for a quick ball in the middle and succeeded. Right Defender Nelson Cruz Freese heard the audience at home erupt, but he was running so fast he didn't see the play. When they erupted again, he knew he had fallen. He reached third base on his knees. "I knew where my family was sitting, so I looked up and saw my mom going crazy," says Freese.

What happened next was crazy. On the 11th, Freese told himself to move on. He worked the count to 3 and 0 against Mark Lowe but realized that there was no way he could get the green light. The next shot was a ball that the referee called a strike, which kept Freese in the batting box, though irritated. He made a good cut on 3 and 1, but missed. Until his last attack, Freese recalled that Lowe had struck the teammate. Lance Berkman in a devastating change at the beginning of the series. He hadn't seen it yet, so he prepared for it. "People ask if I was trying to hit a home run, but every time in my life I tried to do that, I was left out for the third," says Freese. "I was just trying to put the ball in play." He did, more or less. He landed on the central fence. The Cardinals took the Series the following night, and Freese's life changed again.

Now the children approach him nervously for his signature in cafeterias. Cubs fans confess that they find him incredible and swear to secrecy. Free pizza is on the way. In a recent boxing event that benefits local firefighters and police at Scottrade Center, a bodyguard and a velvet VIP rope were not enough to prevent the masses around them from creating a fire hazard.

It would be easy for Freese's ego to leave this planet after the October he just had, but all the dirt he went through doesn't allow it. His redemption story would have book publishers and motivational speaking agents lined up, but he wants these things to be kept secret, locked away from where it might hurt him again. He won't be anyone's poster boy. He wants to be the guy in the cold waiting for a fan to return so he can sign, the guy to count on to fight two attacks.

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