Storybook ending eludes Josh Hamilton

ST. LOUIS -- The fairy tale ending was into its gimpy home run trot. The hero was at once The Natural from the movies and Kirk Gibson from real life.

Josh Hamilton's towering home run into the Busch Stadium lights in the top of the 10th inning pushed the Texas Rangers to a 9-7 lead and moved the franchise for a second time in two innings to the precipice of a first World Series championship. As clubhouse crews simultaneously lined the visitors' lockers with protective tarp and carts of bubbly and brewskies were moved into place, one thought pounded inside Hamilton's head.

"This hurts, this hurts, this hurts, this hurts," Hamilton repeated over and over. "That's probably the slowest I've ever run the bases after hitting a home run. I didn't hear the crowd, I didn't hear anything. I just saw my teammates at the plate, the reaction from the dugout."

Hamilton said that when he stepped to the plate, divine intervention took over. Playing throughout this postseason with a painful muscle pull or tear, perhaps in his groin or maybe his abdomen, Hamilton said he felt total tranquility.

So much so that he cranked St. Louis Cardinals closer Jason Motte's first-pitch fastball high and deep, well beyond the right-center wall and into a sea of red in the bleachers. Hamilton finally had his first home run of the postseason in his 66th at-bat and what seemed destined to be his last of a historic season.

Seated back on the bench, Hamilton received hearty congratulations and the dugout was electric again. Ian Kinsler stood in front of him and put one hand on each of Hamilton's cheeks and squeezed.

Three more outs and the World Series was theirs. Only it wasn't.

A battery of pitchers couldn't keep the cardiac Cardinals down. Twice down to their final strike, they scored twice in the ninth to tie, twice again in the 10th and then David Freese ended one of the wildest, sloppiest, most thrilling and perhaps most remarkable game in World Series history with a lead-off homer in the 11th for a 10-9 walk-off victory to force Game 7 on Friday night at Busch Stadium.

"I'm not going to lose any sleep over tonight," said Hamilton, making a rare postgame appearance by his locker and not locked away in the training room. "I'm going to do everything I can do to prepare. Guys were already talking about it before coming back in here [to the clubhouse]. It's not over yet, so just shake it off and come back tomorrow."

For Hamilton, his blast seemed the most fitting of storybook endings. His injury has been dissected and analyzed to death. His power had been stripped, that's been all but evident. Manager Ron Washington has continually refused to take him out of the three-hole and whenever asked why, the trusting manager would tell you just to believe -- Hamilton will do something great.

And then he did. In Game 6, he was great, going 3-for-6 at the plate. He drove in the first run of the game in the first inning, which seems an eternity ago, on a sharply hit single. He reached on an error in the fifth and showed he can still get his wheels going despite the chronic pain that shoots daggers of varying degrees into his side, scoring all the way from first on a Michael Young double.

The real pain, though, came crashing down like a sledgehammer in the 11th. Busch Stadium erupted. The Cardinals dog-piled as if they had just won the World Series instead of tying it up. The Rangers walked off in stunned disbelief.

How will they overcome such a crushing blow? Hamilton, for one, said he will seek a higher power.

"Guys understand we just went through a battle and we fell a little short," Hamilton said. "I guarantee it's going to motivate us not to fall short tomorrow."