ST. LOUIS - A drained Tony La Russa sat behind the podium, jersey gone and a blue towel draped around his neck,
"When you dream," the St. Louis Cardinals manager said, "you dream about seventh game, all the heroics."
After one of the greatest games in baseball history, a 10-9, 11-inning victory over Texas in Game 6 in which the Cardinals were twice within one strike of elimination, it was too soon for La Russa to announce his Game 7 starter. His choice was whether to send ace Chris Carpenter to the mound on short rest Friday night or start Kyle Lohse or Edwin Jackson.
"This is a very important game and if you don't want it, then there's no need to be here," Carpenter said.
Down to their final strike in the ninth and 10th, the Cardinals won Game 6 on David Freese's 11th-inning homer off Mark Lowe. Afterward, La Russa still would not commit to a Game 7 starter.
"Just barely started to think about tomorrow, but actually it'll be fun to think about it now because there is a Game 7," he said. "Might just roll Jake (Westbrook) back out there. Who knows?"
Texas manager Ron Washington made his decision days ago, announcing he would stay in rotation and start Matt Harrison, the Game 3 loser. Washington could have gone with Game 4 winner Derek Holland on full rest or ace C.J. Wilson on short rest.
"Harrison has been a big part of this team all year," Washington said. "I am not changing the things that I've been doing all year."
The eight-year absence of baseball's ultimate game is the longest since the World Series began in 1903. The Cardinals hold the record for most World Series Game 7s, going 7-3.
When a seventh game was last played in 2002, John Lackey pitched five innings of one-hit ball to lead the Anaheim Angels over the San Francisco Giants 4-1, completing a comeback from a 3-2 Series deficit. Lackey joined Babe Adams of the 1909 Pittsburgh Pirates as the only rookie starters to win a seventh game, and the Angels became the eighth straight home team to triumph in Game 7 since the victory by Pittsburgh's "We Are Family" team at Baltimore in 1979.
In 2001, Randy Johnson came out of the bullpen on no days' rest and the Diamondbacks rallied for two runs in the ninth inning against Mariano Rivera, beating the Yankees 3-2 on Luis Gonzalez's broken-bat single.
"When you're a little kid, you think about the seventh game of the World Series," Gonzalez said. "It didn't matter how the hit came."
While the Cardinals are seeking their 11th title, the Rangers are going for the first in the 51-year history of the franchise, which began as the expansion Washington Senators in 1961. The team moved to Texas for the 1972 season.
"We've been backed into a corner for the last two months," the Cardinals' Skip Schumaker said, "so we know what it feels like."
Carpenter won the opener, then allowed two runs in seven innings in Game 5 on Monday night, giving up solo homers to Mitch Moreland and Adrian Beltre. He didn't get a decision in the Cardinals 4-2 loss but is 3-0 with a 3.30 ERA in five postseason appearances.
He would be just the second pitcher since 1991 to make three Series starts, following Arizona's Curt Schilling a decade ago. But it would be just the second career start on three days' rest for the 36-year-old, who has come back from several arm injuries.
After pitching a two-hit shutout at Houston on the last night of the regular season to help clinch the NL wild card, Carpenter gave up four runs over three innings in Game 2 of the division series at Philadelphia. He didn't get a decision as the Cardinals rallied to win 5-4.
During the last two decades, starters on short rest are 9-8 with a 2.78 ERA in the World Series, with their teams going 12-15, according to STATS LLC.
"I learned what my body's going to feel like, what my stuff's going to be like," Carpenter said. "You go out there and you make pitches. We'll see what happens. Everybody's going to be ready tomorrow, I can tell you that."
Lohse, who would be pitching on five days' rest, was pulled after three innings in Game 3, and the Cardinals went on to win 16-7 against Harrison, who was let down by his defense and allowed five runs two unearned in 3 2-3 innings. Jackson struggled with his control and walked seven in 5 1-3 innings as St. Louis lost 4-0 in Game 4.
Hall of Famer Bob Gibson started three Game 7s for the Cardinals, winning in 1964 and 1967 and losing in 1968 all with complete games.
In 1926, Babe Ruth was thrown out trying to steal second base for the final out as the Cardinals beat the Yankees 3-2. And in 1946, the score was tied at 3 in the eighth when the Cardinals' Enos Slaughter scored from first on Harry Walker's hit as Boston Red Sox shortstop Johnny Pesky hesitated with his relay after receiving the throw from outfielder Leon Culberson.
Other great moments include Edgar Renteria's 11th-inning single that won the 1997 title for Florida against Cleveland, Gene Larkin's 10th-inning single that gave Minnesota a 1-0 win over Atlanta in 1991 behind Jack Morris' seven-hitter, and Bill Mazeroski's Series-ending home run in 1960 that lifted Pittsburgh over the Yankees 10-9.
"Every day of my life, I think about that home run," Mazeroski said. "Wouldn't you?"
Forty years before losing to the Angels, the Giants fell 1-0 in Game 7 to the Yankees when Bobby Richardson gloved Willie McCovey's line drive to end the game with Willie Mays stranded at second.
While in New York, the Giants lost two especially painful seventh games.
In 1912 against the Red Sox, which actually was the eighth game because of a 6-6 tie in Game 2, the Giants took a 2-1 lead in the top of the 10th inning. They were one out from winning when Fred Snodgrass dropped a routine fly ball in center field. Tris Speaker's single tied the score and Larry Gardner's sacrifice fly won it 3-2.
In 1924, Earl McNeely's grounder bounced over rookie third baseman Freddie Lindstrom's head to bring home Muddy Ruel with the winning run in the 12th inning, giving the original Washington Senators a 4-3 victory.
Brooklyn fans treasure Johnny Podres' 2-0 win in 1955 over the Yankees, who beat the Dodgers in the Series five times previously. Sandy Koufax pitched a shutout on two days' rest in 1965 as Los Angeles defeated Minnesota's Jim Kaat 2-0, and Lew Burdette pitched a shutout on two days' rest in 1957 to lead the Milwaukee Braves over the Yankees' Don Larsen 5-0.
In 1975, Cincinnati's Joe Morgan got the go-ahead hit off Boston's Jim Burton who never pitched in the major leagues again to give the Reds a 4-3 victory at Fenway Park. The Mets overcame a 3-0 deficit against the Red Sox in Game 7 in 1986 as Ray Knight and Darryl Strawberry homered in an 8-5 victory.
"The experience of Game 7," La Russa said, "is something they'll never forget."