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CBSSports.com Senior Baseball Columnist

Unforgettable October run adds another chapter to Cardinals legend


ST. LOUIS -- Legendary manager, defender of pets (especially, this month, Cardinals) and history buff. Tony La Russa. Who knew?

"Tony's been saying it the whole ride through the playoffs," St. Louis outfielder Allen Craig was saying as the deafening cheers echoed. "What we did to get here was improbable. Unbelievable."

History, La Russa kept telling his Cardinals during the past few weeks. You can make history. He dropped hints. He delivered reminders. He did everything but open a text book and begin teaching sections on the Missouri Compromise and Mark Twain.

And do you know what?

"When your manager is Tony La Russa, a Hall of Famer, and he's telling you that you can make history, you start to believe it a little more," Craig continued. "If that's possible."

Moments earlier, Craig drifted back in left field, the baseball dropped out of the night sky and St. Louis' latest hardball scrapbook moment was preserved. After two exhausting months of living on the edge, a 6-2 Game 7 roundup of the Texas Rangers delivered the Cardinals their 11th World Series title in club history.

Rogers Hornsby to Stan Musial to Albert Pujols.

Dizzy Dean to Bob Gibson to Chris Carpenter.

You want history? The Cardinals can do that.

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From Hornsby and Frankie Frisch, the Fordham Flash himself, and the rest of the Gashouse Gang to Ozzie Smith, Willie McGee and Whitey Herzog, the lineage is rich and getting richer.

Since Carpenter joined Pujols and La Russa here in 2004, the Cardinals have played in three World Series and now have won two, in 2006 and 2011.

"One nice thing is, we extended the era," general manager John Mozeliak said. "Now, '06 won't simply be a memory."

Now, it's part of the latest, greatest era in Cardinals lore.

"This moment is an exclamation point on an amazing eight weeks," Mozeliak continued. "It's a 24/7 job, and you live and die with its ups and downs. Seeing what we went through early in the season with the blown saves and injuries, and to sit here today and watch it all click is truly rewarding."

The living, breathing history of this place is no small part of the reason why Carpenter, who earned two of the Cardinals four World Series wins, signed an extension in late September.

The tradition, the alumni ... Carpenter, who held Texas to two runs and six hits in six innings on three-days' rest, loves it all. When Gibson is at Busch Stadium one night and Lou Brock the next and maybe Musial is whisked to home plate in a golf cart for some ceremony or other ... there is meaning from the magnitudinous to the mundane.

It is no coincidence that during Carpenter's eight seasons, the Cardinals have been non-competitive in only two: The two seasons Carpenter lost to Tommy John elbow surgery, 2007 and 2008.

The six seasons with a healthy Carpenter? The Cardinals have won four NL Central titles and twice finished second. They've hoisted three NL pennants and, now, two World Series titles.

"It speaks a lot about the type of people we have in the organization," Carpenter said. "It shows you what Cardinals baseball is all about.

"This is totally different. It's a great experience. You can't do it enough, I can tell you that.

"It's great history. It's great tradition. And to be a part of it is amazing."

Only the Yankees, with 27, have won more World Series titles than the Cardinals. St. Louis' 56 wins in World Series games are more than any other NL club. They're now 6-1 in World Series games played in new Busch Stadium, and they've now won two titles in the six years of the park's existence.

"It's awesome," said Pujols, who broke in here in 2001. "This is what you play for, to be a world champion.

"It's hard to get one, and to be able to have the opportunity to win two in 11 years, I mean, I can go around to the guys that play 15, 17 years, 14 years in the game and never won one.

"And to be able to be in three World Series and to win two, it's incredible."

Back, for a moment, to Craig, whose two-out, ninth-inning catch of David Murphy's routine fly to left field set all of this in motion:

If that's possible?

No, it did not seem possible.

Not on August 25, when the Cardinals were 10½ games out of a playoff spot.

Not in early October, when they faced Roy Halladay and Game 5 of the division series in Philadelphia.

And damn sure not in Game 6 just 24 hours earlier, when twice the Cardinals were one strike away from elimination. It was a position in which no team had ever been in a World Series and lived to tell about it.


"The history of where we were at the end of August, being 10½ games out [and coming back to win a playoff spot], that's never been done before," hitting coach Mark McGwire said a few stinging seconds after Pujols doused him with champagne and delivered a hug strong enough to suffocate a bear. "Getting through the first round of the playoffs ... it really doesn't become history unless you finish it off."

La Russa had a message for the Cardinals when they dropped Game 5 in Texas the other night, sending them home trailing 3-2 in this World Series, no more margin for error.

"We had a great meeting," McGwire said. "He told us to bust our butts. There's a reason for everything. And he said, 'Listen, we haven't had a chance to crack champagne in St. Louis.

"You just keep doing the work you're doing."

The Cardinals never wavered. They never blinked.

And once they got past one of the best Game 6's ever played, there was only one thing left to do on a chilly Friday night for the ages, and that came after the Cardinals had taken a 6-2 lead in the seventh in a mostly nondescript and anticlimactic game in which four of the six Cards who scored reached base either via a walk or being hit by a pitch.

"Even with that four-run lead, after dealing with last night, I was like, 'Man, we've got to get that third out,'" McGwire said.

History comes in all kinds of packages, from all sorts of unexpected directions. As Lance Berkman said following the phenomenal Game 6, if the Cardinals lost Game 7 it would be a simple footnote to history, but if they won, it would be legend.

So Freese it right here. With this second title since '06, the Legend of Pujols, Carpenter and La Russa is in full flight. World Series MVP David Freese is on the launching pad. Lance Berkman, Yadier Molina ... and how about Mozeliak's mid-season acquisitions that tightened up the defense, the pitching and the clubhouse chemistry: Shortstop Rafael Furcal, pitchers Edwin Jackson, Marc Rzepcynski, Octavio Dotel and Arthur Rhodes.

"The chemistry was ridiculous here," infielder Skip Schumaker said. "It goes a lot further than people give credit.

"Mo did such a great job bringing guys in. I made lifelong friends here, and not just because we won the World Series. These are lifelong friends here for me."

And lifelong memories here for each one of the Cardinals ... and each one of their fans.

Do these guys fit in a frame on the wall beside Musial and Enos Slaughter? You'd better believe it. Do they fit on the shelf next to Lou Brock and Gibson and the Wizard of Oz? Unquestionably.

"It's just about us as an organization," La Russa said. "I mean, this one is just different. ... As I said a couple of days ago, it's like your favorite dog or your favorite cat. They're just different."

These Cardinals were about nitty and gritty and guts. And in the end, history discovered them as much as they found history.

From one strike away from elimination, twice, to champagne.

"Texas has an unbelievable club and a class organization," Mozeliak said. "J.D. [Rangers general manager Jon Daniels] came up after the game and gave me his well wishes. That's what I was thinking of last night, would I get the opportunity to wish him that wherever he was at the time.

"This team is about never stopping, always pushing.

"This is a perfect example of why baseball is so special. You can't take a knee."


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