From Comcast SportsNetMILWAUKEE (AP) -- An afterthought in early September, the St. Louis Cardinals needed every last win just to reach the postseason. Now, this wild ride is headed to the World Series. "We believe," third baseman David Freese said. "I think that's what you've got to do in this game. We've got a group of guys with some talent, desire, and just a ton of heart." 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 St. Louis captured its 18th pennant with a 12-6 victory over the bumbling Milwaukee Brewers on Sunday night. Albert Pujols and the wild-card Cardinals took out the heavily favored Phillies in the first round, then dispatched the division-rival Brewers on their own turf in Game 6 of the NL championship series. "I mean, you could have never known," Pujols said. Freese, often overlooked in a lineup anchored by All-Stars, batted .545 with three homers and nine RBIs to earn series MVP honors. Looking for its second title in six seasons, St. Louis opens the World Series at home Wednesday night with ace Chris Carpenter on the mound against the AL champion Texas Rangers. "Your goal is to win it," Pujols said. "Nobody talks about second place. Everybody talks about who wins it. That's our main goal." Trailing by 10 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. In a twist of fate, it was Philadelphia that helped them into the postseason by completing a three-game sweep of the Braves. "Improbable, incredible, overwhelming," La Russa said. "This one here has its own mark, because coming from that far back is historic I think. That's what they tell me. And having to win on the road, Philadelphia, these guys." 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. What a relief! "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 can become a free agent after the season. "I had to clear the throat once, but it was all right. I love these guys," said Fielder, a first-round draft pick in 2002. "I've been playing with most of them since I was 18. So this organization has been great to me." 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 was 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. "I got spiked, and then (Rzepczynski) kind of stepped on my right knee, but it was a do-or-die play," Pujols said. "I'm glad, you know, we got the out." The Cardinals needed a shutout from Carpenter to beat the Phillies 1-0 in Game 5 of the NLDS, but took control of this series beginning in Game 2 by jumping out to early leads and letting the bullpen lead the way. 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. Freese gave his teammates credit while accepting the MVP award. "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," manager Ron Roenicke said. The Brewers' biggest hitters -- Braun, Fielder and Weeks -- finished 1 for 12 in Game 6. Fielder, the All-Star game MVP and the reason St. Louis will start at home on Wednesday, received a standing ovation in his final at-bat in the eighth. He grounded out and slowly walked back to the dugout with his head down. Struggling starter Shaun Marcum never really gave Milwaukee a chance and was hurt by defensive plays that weren't ruled errors. In the first, Jon Jay singled with one out and stole second when Weeks couldn't hold onto Lucroy's low throw. Marcum believed he had strike three on Pujols, who ended up walking. Lance Berkman singled for the second time in 18 career at-bats against Marcum to drive in the first run, and center fielder Nyjer Morgan made an ill-advised throw to third that let Berkman reach second. Marcum saved a run by grabbing Holliday's dribbler and flipping it out of his glove to Lucroy to get Pujols at the plate, but Freese homered on the next pitch to make it 4-0 and extend his postseason hitting streak to 10 games. Marcum was finished after the first, ending his postseason 0-3 with a 14.90 ERA. "They were some kind of team in that first inning. We couldn't get away with anything," Roenicke said. "We didn't make good pitches. But we just never had a chance to get into our comfort zone." Furcal homered off Chris Narveson in the second and Pujols hit a drive to left in the third to give St. Louis a 6-4 lead. Holliday then singled, Freese doubled and the Brewers intentionally walked Yadier Molina with one out. Nick Punto hit a sacrifice fly and pinch-hitter Allen Craig singled in two more runs off LaTroy Hawkins to make it 9-4. Yuniesky Betancourt's RBI double in the fourth cut the lead to 9-5, but Milwaukee fell apart in the fifth with three errors in a span of two plays. First, Hart bobbled Freese's single in right field, allowing Holliday to reach third. Holliday scored on the next play when third baseman Jerry Hairston Jr. committed two errors. He booted Molina's grounder and then flipped the ball out of his glove through Weeks' legs at second. "They outplayed us," Roenicke said. "They're a good team and they outplayed us." Pinch-hitter Adron Chambers' sacrifice fly gave St. Louis an 11-5 lead in the fifth. In the bottom of the inning, Braun's groundout cut the lead to 11-6, but the focus was on Pujols when he was slow to get up. La Russa came out to check on his star, who gripped his right forearm and had a brief limp, but stayed in the game. He looked better later, contributing a two-out RBI single in the eighth for the final margin. Jackson allowed Hart and Weeks to lead off the first two innings with homers and Lucroy added a two-run shot to cut the lead to 5-4 in the second. St. Louis answered back with four more runs, keyed when Jackson was pulled for Craig, who delivered his two-run single. Salas caught a break in the third when Jay made a leaping catch of Fielder's drive at the wall in right-center. Jay added another spectacular grab, crashing into the padding in the ninth with Motte on the mound. One out later, the celebration was on. "It's kind of surreal that we're here," Freese said. "But this team deserves what we've been rewarded." NOTES: St. Louis joins the Dodgers and Giants with 18 World Series appearances, second only to the Yankees (40). ... It was Milwaukee's 26th loss at Miller Park this season. Marcum started 13 of those games. ... Furcal has hit six of his nine homers this season against the Brewers. ... Marcum gave up 34 runs over his final 34 innings dating to Sept. 9. ... The Miller Park roof was closed with the game-time temperature 55 degrees and a strong autumn wind blowing throughout the day. Inside, it was 67 degrees.
It was a gift and the Bulls weren't going to look it in the mouth as Dwyane Wade was poised to finish off another one of his sterling defensive plays with a breakaway dunk with the game tied and Arron Afflalo and DeMarcus Cousins trailing.
Lightly touched by the small of his back by Cousins, Wade miscalculated his liftoff and missed the dunk but was bailed out by the refs for a foul with 14 seconds left.
Then, he bailed the Bulls out.
Wade had his fifth fourth-quarter defensive play, stripping Cousins on a steal on the ensuing possession with the Sacramento Kings having a chance to win, leading to a Michael Carter-Williams dunk and finishing a 102-99 win Saturday night at the United Center.
It was a clock-turning performance for Wade on both ends of the floor, even if his missed dunk is a reminder that he is 35 years old.
"I took off too far as I look at the instant replay," Wade said. "I should've took maybe one more dribble. Can't say I felt 35, I just took off too far (laughs). But hey, sometimes you get calls, sometimes you don't. I'm a person who hasn't gotten a lot all year so I'm not gonna apologize for nothing."
Stripping Cousins on his spin move was the finale, but he swatted an Arron Afflalo corner triple in the fourth, smothered Ty Lawson at the rim twice for blocked shots to end the third and tortured Lawson again in the fourth for another steal that led to him following up a Jimmy Butler missed layup with a follow and foul.
"Just a read," said Wade on stripping Cousins. "We knew he was gonna go to DeMarcus at that point. Once we forced him left, I knew he had to come back to the right hand. And being in the right place at the right time, the ball was right there for me."
Wade played like a desperate and motivated man, putting up 30 with six rebounds and four assists on the second night of a back-to-back is proof positive he took Friday's loss to Atlanta personally and used his play to back up those feelings.
"We've been good in desperate moments," Wade said. "We haven't been good in non-desperate moments, when we win three in a row or playing a team that we should beat. But (in) the desperate moments I like us."
He scored 13 in the fourth, along with the last of his four blocked shots and all three of his steals took place in the final 12.
"I thought he was terrific," Bulls coach Fred Hoiberg said. "He was aggressive all game long, taking the ball to the basket, getting to the line 15 times. He came up with two big plays."
Hoiberg threw out different lineups and rotations, playing Paul Zipser as a sixth man and having the second-round draft pick close the game. Zipser took advantage, hitting three triples and scoring 13 points.
"I thought it was night and day from last night," Hoiberg said. "Our energy was really good all night long. We got just enough stops to find a way to win."
Cousins dominated the game with 42 and 14 rebounds in 35 minutes, the only Kings player in double figures all night.
"He was pretty much unguardable for the majority of the game, Taj did a solid job on him," Hoiberg said. "When Robin was on him, they put him on the perimeter and let him shoot threes. He's a monster."
Back-to-back triples from Cousins gave him 40 and tied the game at 97, as a third one rimmed out with a little under two minutes left.
Cousins dominated the start of the third quarter, hitting midrange jumpers over Lopez and taunting the Bulls bench after hitting a jumper to put the Kings ahead, 70-63 midway through the third.
But the Bulls stayed close, with Hoiberg choosing to sit Rajon Rondo for the second half after playing him six minutes in the second quarter, using Wade as a point guard and going with Carter-Williams for defense, along with Zipser, who didn't look scared of the moment.
"I like the wrinkle coach put in there, putting him in early," Wade said. "He gave him an opportunity and he helped us big time."
Butler scored 23 with seven assists and five rebounds in 39 minutes, didn't have to play the hero for once and made fun of Wade's apology tweet.
"He was due for a big night," Butler said. "He can tweet again if he can come out again and give us 30 and some big steals and big dunks."
"I think that's what called of him, to score baskets and guard. It's kinda sneaky. You never really expect it until it happens."
It looked like the worst was over when the Bulls made a short run to end the third, surviving the onslaught from Cousins — and surviving their own experimenting with Zipser instead of going with Denzel Valentine, switching things up altogether.
But the tone was set by the leaders, who can only manufacture but so much urgency on a nightly basis.
"I like this team when we're desperate," Wade said. "A desperate team, we're not bad."