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But for the want of one strike, the nanometer of measurements in the baseball universe, the Rangers would be opening spring training camp in two weeks under the halo of the first world championship in franchise history. That they are consigned to the infamy of near misses, right there with Robert F. Scott, Thomas Dewey, Alydar and the 1986 Red Sox, is due primarily to David Freese, the Cardinals' third baseman who tied Game 6 of the World Series with a triple and won it two innings later with a home run.
Talk about your extreme swings of history. If a historian, as Mencken defined one, is an unsuccessful novelist, what creative mind could have conjured this saga? Freese, largely unknown before October, woke up that day, as he did every home date of the postseason, on the drab olive sofa in the tiny spare room of a college buddy's St. Louis apartment—an arrangement born of both superstition and prodigious sleeping skills. Since the night of Oct. 27, Freese has yukked it up between Justin Bieber and Jay Leno on The Tonight Show, guested on Ellen, presented at the Country Music Association Awards, appeared on Access Hollywood Live (which dropped the 411 on Kelly Clarkson's being sweet on him), filmed a guest role on the ABC comedy Work It, received the key to the city of St. Louis, learned that his money is no good at eateries there, and, when the world champion Cardinals were honored at the White House last month, was told by the President, just after Barack Obama met with King Abdullah II of Jordan, "I imagine you're a big hit with the ladies now, huh?"
When it comes to iconic World Series home runs, Freese, who was raised in the suburbs of St. Louis as a Cardinals fan, is right there with Hall of Famers Carlton Fisk of the 1975 Red Sox and Kirby Puckett of the '91 Twins, the only other players to hit an extra-inning walk-off when facing elimination. When it comes to big names in the pantheon of sofas, Freese is right there with Davenport and Chesterfield.
"I can sleep anywhere," Freese said last month, atop the famous hunk of sagging upholstery, which cannot accommodate his prone 6'2'' frame unless he keeps his knees bent. "We get on the plane, I'm out before we take off and I'm still sleeping when we land. This was all about winning, so that's why I stayed put."
Says the sofa's owner, Dan Kriegshauser, a junior college teammate of Freese's, "He's a cool roommate. He bought us meals. Now he goes anywhere and gets a free meal. We can't go out to dinner more than once at the same place because he's too modest and doesn't want to take the free meals they give him over and over again."
"Everywhere I go," Freese says, "people tell me, 'Thank you!' They're thanking me. I still can't believe it."
CALL THE SOFA the Cardinals' hitting couch. Freese settled on Kriegshauser's sofa because shortly after he had moved into a new apartment of his own in September he realized he had forgotten to preorder cable television and would have to wait weeks for an installer. "I'm not going to stay there without any cable," he says, "so I shacked up here on this couch, [then] we clinched [the wild card] in Houston. I come home and he said, 'You're not going anywhere.' We kept winning, and I kept sleeping on the couch."
Says Kriegshauser, "Next thing you know, we have the NLCS and he's lying on my couch making a mess of the house and he's the eventual World Series MVP. Pretty crazy."
That word, crazy, fits perfectly one of the more outlandish career arcs of a World Series MVP. Suddenly Freese, who quit baseball at 18, is a cornerstone Cardinal, an important part of the franchise's future as well as the perpetual face of what Obama called "the greatest comeback team in the history of baseball."
With camps about to open in Florida and Arizona, the National League Central looks very different from last year. The Cardinals lost first baseman Albert Pujols (to the Angels via free agency), manager Tony La Russa (to retirement) and pitching coach Dave Duncan (to a leave of absence to care for his wife, who is fighting brain cancer). The Brewers lost first baseman Prince Fielder (to the Tigers via free agency) and could lose NL MVP Ryan Braun for 50 games (for a PED-related suspension). The Cubs have a new president (Theo Epstein), general manager (Jed Hoyer) and manager (Dale Sveum). The Reds have a new ace (righthander Mat Latos, acquired from the Padres) and closer (former Phillie Ryan Madson, signed as a free agent). The Astros have a new owner (Jim Crane) in the last year before they switch leagues. Only the Pirates made no major changes.