MILWAUKEE (AP) — 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 the St. Louis Cardinals booked its place in the World Series with a 12-6 victory over the Milwaukee Brewers on Sunday .
Albert Pujols and the wild-card Cardinals took out the heavily favored Phillies in the first round of the playoffs, then dispatched the division-rival Brewers on their own turf in Game 6 of the National League championship series.
Looking for its second title in six seasons, St. Louis opens the World Series at home Wednesday with ace pitcher Chris Carpenter on the mound against the American League champion Texas Rangers.
"I mean, you could have never known," Pujols said.
Trailing by 10 1/2 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.
"Well, it was crazy," outfielder Matt Holliday said. "We had a lot of adversity, but we found a way."
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. Louis.
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's 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.
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.
Picked as the NLCS Most Valuable Player, Freese gave others credit.
"I wish we could make eight or nine of these and give them to our bullpen. They're the reason why we won this series," he said.
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.
"You can't get away with mistakes to them and we made way too many mistakes," Brewers manager Ron Roenicke said.