ST. LOUIS - David Freese caught Albert Pujols' attention from the moment the young third baseman joined the St. Louis Cardinals.
The hometown kid was something of a wild child back then, but he was also humble and hardworking. So Pujols took him under his wing, setting him on the right path, one that led Freese all the way to the MVP award of the St. Louis Cardinals' 11th World Series championship.
"I don't have a word yet to describe David Freese," Pujols said after St. Louis beat the Texas Rangers 6-2 in Game 7 on Friday night. "To be able to go through the things he's done in his career, just shows who David Freese is."
The most unlikely standout on a team full of big names, Freese batted .348 for the series, with seven RBIs, three doubles and one big homer. He's the fourth Cardinals player to win the MVP award, joining Hall of Fame pitcher Bob Gibson in 1964 and '67, catcher Darrell Porter in 1982 and David Eckstein in their 2006 victory over Detroit.
Freese drove in 21 runs in the post-season, shattering the previous record.
"This is why you keep battling," Freese said. "Sometimes things don't work out, you get injured, you do stupid stuff, but you try to stay on path. You surround yourself with guys like we have on this team. I'm so glad to be part of this."
The kid who grew up in a St. Louis suburb hit a three-run homer in Game 6 of the NLCS against Milwaukee, earning the MVP of that series for the first act in his coming out party. His performance in Act 2 against the Rangers made him the sixth player to be MVP of a league championship series and the World Series.
Down to the Cardinals' final strike in Game 6, Freese delivered a tying two-run triple in the ninth inning Thursday night. Freese then did one better: a leadoff homer in the 11th that gave St. Louis a dramatic win over the Rangers and forced the first Game 7 since 2002.
"You're Game 6 performance, David, will turn out to be one for the ages," Commissioner Bud Selig said in announcing the MVP award. "I'm sure this is a dream come true for a St. Louis native."
Often overlooked in a lineup that features Pujols, Matt Holliday and Lance Berkman, Freese left his own impression on baseball's grandest stage out of necessity.
Holliday struggled most of the series before spraining his right wrist during Game 6, taking him off the roster Friday. Pujols was intentionally walked whenever he was a threat.
That left much of the offence to Freese, who had given up on baseball after high school, spurning a scholarship offer from Missouri to simply be a college student. He even rebuffed the Tigers' coaches when they called midway through his first semester to find out whether he'd changed his mind.
It wasn't until about a year out of high school that the itch to play finally returned.
Freese gave in and enrolled at St. Louis Community College-Meremec, and his play there caught the attention of the coaching staff at South Alabama. Freese blossomed into the Padres' ninth-round draft pick in 2006, and a trade to the Cardinals eventually brought him home.
"If you wrote a story like that -- a guy gets traded, comes back to his hometown, he's a hero -- if you sent that in the script, it would get thrown back in your face," Selig said.
This wasn't a perfect fairy tale, though. That would be too easy.
After he arrived in St. Louis, Freese was arrested for DUI and found to have a blood alcohol level of .232 -- nearly three times the legal limit. He needed season-ending surgery to repair a torn tendon in his right ankle last year, and he broke his left hand when he was hit by a pitch this season. He was hit by another pitch in August and sustained a concussion.
Each time, he came back better than before.
He was at his best against Texas.
In the World Series opener, with the game tied in the sixth inning, Freese delivered a timely double. He alertly moved to third base on a wild pitch, allowing him to score easily for the eventual winning run on Allen Craig's single to right field.
Freese scored the Cardinals' only run in a 2-1 loss in Game 2, and then drove in a pair of runs in a 16-7 victory in Game 3 -- a performance that will be forever overshadowed by Pujols' three homers.
Nobody could overshadow Freese in Game 6.
After committing a critical error when an easy popup bounced out of his glove, Freese more than made up for it with his bat. Down to his final strike, his two-run triple in the ninth forced extra innings, and he joined Bill Mazeroski, Carlton Fisk, Kirby Puckett and Joe Carter as the only players to hit a game-winning homer in Game 6 or later of a Fall Classic.
That's pretty select company.
Much like the company he'll enjoy as MVP of the World Series.
"I've had plenty of days in my life where I'd thought, you know, I wouldn't even be close to being a big leaguer," Freese said. "I'm here because of everyone around me. They put so much trust in me to accomplish, not just baseball, but stuff in life. To do this, I'm just full of joy."