AP Sports Writer

MILWAUKEE (AP) _ An afterthought in early September, the St.
Louis Cardinals are taking their wild ride all the way to the World

David Freese hit a three-run homer in the first and manager Tony
La Russa turned again to his brilliant bullpen for seven sturdy
innings as St. Louis captured its 18th pennant with a 12-6 victory
over the bumbling Milwaukee Brewers on Sunday night.

Albert Pujols and the wild-card Cardinals took out the heavily
favored Phillies in the first round, then dispatched the
division-rival Brewers on their own turf in Game 6 of the NL
championship series.

Looking for its second title in six seasons, St. Louis opens the
World Series at home Wednesday night with ace Chris Carpenter on
the mound against the AL champion Texas Rangers.

Trailing by 101/2 games in the wild-card race on Aug. 25, the
Cardinals surged down the stretch and took advantage of a
monumental collapse by Atlanta to win a playoff spot on the final
night of the regular season.

Now, bolstered by a group of no-name relievers who keep
answering La Russa’s call, the Cardinals are back in the World
Series for the first time since beating Detroit in 2006.

What a relief!

It was a disappointing end to a scintillating season for Prince
Fielder, Ryan Braun and the NL Central champion Brewers, who
finished with a franchise-record 96 wins, six games ahead of St.

Baseball’s best home team collapsed in the NLCS, though, losing
twice at Miller Park in an error-filled flop. It was likely
Fielder’s final game with the Brewers, too. He can become a free
agent after the season.

Rafael Furcal and Pujols hit solo homers off Chris Narveson and
St. Louis built a 9-4 lead by the time the bullpen took over for
Edwin Jackson in the third inning.

The group of Fernando Salas, Marc Rzepczynski, Octavio Dotel,
Lance Lynn and Jason Motte allowed two runs the rest of the way.
For the series, St. Louis relievers finished 3-0 with a 1.88 ERA
over 28 2-3 innings.

The biggest scare came when Pujols appeared shaken up after
tagging out Braun in the fifth inning when he fell hard on his
right forearm on a close play at first base. The three-time MVP was
slow to get up, but stayed in the game.

St. Louis went 15-5 over the final 20 games to clinch a playoff
spot on the final day of the regular season. The Cardinals needed
Carpenter to throw a shutout to beat the Phillies 1-0 in Game 5 of
the NLDS, but took control of this series beginning in Game 2 by
jumping out to early leads and letting their bullpen lead the way.

La Russa called on his relievers 28 times in the NLCS and
Jackson’s start was the shortest of the postseason for the
Cardinals rotation, which finished the NLCS with a 7.66 ERA. St.
Louis became the first team to win a postseason series without a
starter reaching the sixth inning, according to STATS LLC.

Corey Hart, Rickie Weeks and Jonathan Lucroy all homered for the
Brewers, who won a major league-most 57 times at Miller Park this
season and four straight in the postseason before losing Game 2 to
the Cardinals.

It was the two ugly defensive performances that will likely
linger for Milwaukee, which committed four errors in a 7-1 loss in
Game 5 and added three more in Game 6.

The Brewers’ biggest hitters _ Braun, Fielder and Weeks _
finished 1 for 12. Fielder, the All-Star game MVP and the reason
St. Louis will start at home on Wednesday, received a standing
ovation in his final at-bat in the eighth. He grounded out and
slowly walked back to the dugout with his head down.

Struggling starter Shaun Marcum never really gave Milwaukee a
chance and was hurt by defensive plays that weren’t ruled errors.

In the first, Jon Jay singled with one out and stole second when
Weeks couldn’t hold onto Lucroy’s throw. Marcum believed he had
strike three on Pujols, who ended up walking.

Lance Berkman singled for the second time in 18 career at-bats
against Marcum to drive in the first run, and center fielder Nyjer
Morgan made an ill-advised throw to third, with Pujols moving from
first to third, that let Berkman advance.

Marcum saved a run by grabbing Matt Holliday’s grounder and
flipping it out of his glove to Lucroy to get Pujols at the plate,
but Freese homered on the next pitch to make it 4-0 and extend his
postseason hitting streak to 10 games. He was selected the series

Marcum finished the first, ending his postseason 0-3 with a
14.90 ERA.

Furcal homered off Chris Narveson with two outs in the second
and Pujols followed with a drive to left field to give St. Louis a
6-4 lead.

Holliday then singled, Freese doubled and the Brewers
intentionally walked Yadier Molina with one out. Nick Punto hit a
sacrifice fly and pinch-hitter Allen Craig singled in two more runs
off LaTroy Hawkins to make it 9-4.

Yuniesky Betancourt’s RBI double in the fourth cut the lead to
9-5, but Milwaukee fell apart in the fifth with three errors in a
span of two plays.

First, Hart bobbled Freese’s single in right field, allowing
Holliday to reach third.

Holliday scored on the next play when third baseman Jerry
Hairston Jr. committed two errors. First, he booted Molina’s
grounder and then flipped the ball out of his glove through Weeks’
legs at second.

Pinch-hitter Adron Chambers’ sacrifice fly gave St. Louis an
11-5 lead in the fifth. In the bottom of the inning, Braun’s
groundout cut the lead to 11-6, but the focus was on Pujols when he
was slow to get up.

La Russa came out to check on his star, who gripped his right
forearm and had a brief limp, but stayed in the game. He looked
better, contributing a two-out RBI single in the eighth for the
final margin.

Jackson allowed Hart and Weeks to lead off the first two innings
with homers and Lucroy added a two-run shot to cut the lead to 5-4
after the second. St. Louis answered back with four more runs,
keyed when Jackson was pulled for Craig, who delivered the two-run

Salas caught a break in the third when Jay made a leaping catch
of Fielder’s drive at the wall in right-center. Jay added another
spectacular grab, crashing into the padding in the ninth with Motte
on the mound.

One out later, the celebration was on.

NOTES: St. Louis joins the Dodgers and Giants with 18 World
Series appearances, second only to the Yankees (40). … It was
Milwaukee’s 26th loss at Miller Park this season. Marcum started 13
of those games. … Furcal has six of his nine homers this season
off the Brewers. … Marcum gave up 34 runs over his final 34
innings dating to Sept. 9. … The Brewers had clubhouse attendant
Alex Sanchez dressed as the giant blue cartoon monster James
Sullivan from the 2001 movie Monsters, Inc. throw out the first
pitch. … The Miller Park roof was closed with the gametime
temperature 55 degrees and a strong autumn wind blowing throughout
the day. Inside, it was 67 degrees.

(Copyright 2011 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)


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