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Cards' success may help, but who knows if Pujols will stay?

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Will Pujols' No. 5 batting helmet continue to sit in the dugout with those of other Cards players? (Getty Images)  
Will Pujols' No. 5 batting helmet continue to sit in the dugout with those of other Cards players? (Getty Images)  

ST. LOUIS -- Tony La Russa has made himself into the story of this World Series ... unless Albert Pujols hits another three home runs.

The La Russa story isn't going away.

But the question that still hangs over all of St. Louis is whether Pujols is going away.

And the question I keep asking is whether what happens to the Cardinals this week will in any way help determine what happens to Pujols this winter. Is Albert any less likely to leave if the Cardinals are champions?

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"I don't think anybody knows the answer to that," Cards general manager John Mozeliak said. "But I'd like to think team success can help."

There's no way to know for sure. We don't know how the free-agent market will play out this winter. We don't know if there will be an offer out there that's too huge to turn down, an offer so huge that the Cardinals decide they can't even come close to matching it.

Cardinals people seem to believe that Pujols really would prefer to stay in St. Louis, not exactly surprising considering the success he has had and the roots he has put down. But none of them I talked to believe it's a certainty he'll remain.

And none of them was willing to guess on whether what happens in the next two nights will have any impact on the decision.

We only know that in some cases, it can.

The Angels have always believed Paul Konerko would have signed with them after the 2005 season, if only the White Sox hadn't won the World Series that year.

Rangers people believed their best chance of keeping Cliff Lee last year was to win the World Series with him. Brewers people believed the same this year about Prince Fielder.

It's harder to leave a group of teammates you just won a championship with -- but not impossible.

We don't know how it would be for Albert, just as we don't know whether his historic Game 3 on Saturday night did anything to change his free-agent price tag.

It's easy to say it did. It's easy to look back at some examples from the past (Carlos Beltran being the most prominent one), and say that postseason success can lead to a killing in the free-agent market.

But is that really true?

"In general, postseason success can help or hurt a free agent," Mozeliak agreed. "But in general, it doesn't move the needle much."

I tend to believe that. I tend to believe that in the case of Pujols, widely regarded as the best hitter in the game, the price isn't going to be set by one night in October, or by four weeks in October.

I also tend to believe that two more Cardinals victories in this World Series would make it harder (but not impossible) for Pujols to leave.

In any case, the uncertainty remains. In any case, Cardinals fans will show up at Busch Stadium for Game 6 not knowing if it will be Pujols' final game in a Cardinals uniform.

By now, they should be used to the drill. Wednesday will be the fifth "could be the last home game" in the past four weeks.

If the Cardinals win Game 6, then Thursday will be the sixth one.

The last regular-season home game could have been it, but the Cardinals won that day, won in Houston and made the playoffs.

Game 4 against the Phillies could have been it, but the Cardinals won that night, won Game 5 in Philadelphia and made it to the National League Championship Series.

Game 5 against the Brewers could have been it, but the Cardinals won that night, won Game 6 in Milwaukee and made it to the World Series.

Game 2 against the Rangers could have been it. The Cardinals lost that night, but they won a game in Texas to bring the World Series back home.

The Cardinals are 3-1 in possible last Pujols home games already. They'll need to make it 5-1 to win this World Series.

But do they need to make it 5-1 to have the best possible chance to re-sign Pujols (and thus make it not his final home game)?

Mozeliak was right. We don't know the answer to that.

At this point, it may well be tougher to answer than the question of what really happened in the Cardinals bullpen on Monday night.

The bullpen/phone/noise story was still a hot one Tuesday. The Pujols story will always be hot.

That one, for sure, is not going away.

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