ST. LOUIS – Downtown was a mass of red as the clock cleared midnight and it became early Saturday.
Some of the red danced.
Some high-fived other red and shouted stuff about red.
At an intersection, beneath a stop light, amid blaring horns and intermittent loitering, two cars stood, their hoods up and their front bumpers nearly touching.
A red Good Samaritan was giving a jump start to a stranded red while traffic darted in angles around them.
Not a blue in sight.
Closing time had filled the streets with one of the great baseball parties in years. The folks here shuffled their feet through various plastic and aluminum cans, most of those red, too.
In the city’s time of need it seemed the taxicabs fled, leaving the corners crowded with red. So everyone walked and wondered where the taxis were and hugged strangers whose sole objective was to paint the town in the color of their beloved St. Louis Cardinals.
Maybe the love affair is overdone. A guy wearing a red cap in Texas, transplanted red, told me it was, that the gooey stuff was for the old folks in the ‘burbs. And there was a tinge of “act like you’ve done it before” on those streets. I’ve sometimes thought of St. Louis as a baseball Whoville, where the locals converge on the ballpark holding hands and singing joyfully of the days of Musial and Gibson and Dizzy.
But, you know, this was pretty cool.
This is what baseball can do to a place, just as the nights turn cold and thoughts turn to storm windows and snow tires.
Nothing burned, that I saw. The cops up the road directed traffic. They smiled brightly and held off cars for the stumblers and stragglers. Coming up on 3 a.m., the guy in charge of clearing out the Missouri Bar and Grill – the old writers’ haunt – flickered the lights, announced it was time to go home, and added, “Go ahead and finish that. No rush.”
This was a celebration, not a demolition. Everyone was invited, even the neutral.
This had come from 10½ games back. From so long, Albert. From chasing down the Atlanta Braves, and Chris Carpenter in Game 5 in Philly and shutting up the Milwaukee Brewers and, damn, just about the most interesting and crazy and demoralizing and fantastic World Series anyone could remember.
Back at the ballpark, grown men scaled the outfield fences, pretending to be Allen Craig(notes) robbing Nelson Cruz(notes) of a home run. Their vertical leaps were, like, four inches, but no one cared. And grown men skittered around the bases, running for the joy of it, just to get it all out.
From beyond the center field fence, pop songs blasted from the terrace at Mike Shannon’s restaurant. Sirens approached and faded. Four hours after the last pitch and the commissioner’s speech and the christening of championship No. 11, nobody wanted to go home. Maybe some had lost their way, but still …
Later in the morning, by 8:30, the airport had sold out of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, the cover shouted “Extra! Extra!” and announced, “WORLD CHAMPS.” Lance Berkman(notes) hoisted the trophy on the front page.
[World Series slideshow: The best photos from all of the games]
By mid-day, people lined up at the newspaper’s offices to buy their own copies, copies for their children, and their children’s children.
This, they knew, was no ordinary band of champions. Kicked to the curb in August, the Cardinals of La Russa and Pujols and Carpenter, of newcomers Furcal and Dotel and Rhodes, of boys named Freese and Craig and Garcia, these Cardinals were special. Exasperating at times, but special.
And if an era were to end, the decade they’d had Pujols squatting and glowering from the batter’s box, then, hell, what a way for it to go. They’d waved those white hankies threadbare. And bought up more red. And, probably, had they found the moment, they’d have applauded the Texas Rangers for their part in this.
Instead, they’d watched the dog-pile, and watched David Murphy(notes) skirt carefully around it on the way to the third-base dugout, the Rangers done, the Cardinals just getting started, a month to the day from the beginning.
[Y! Sports shop: Buy Cardinals title gear]
They reminded me of the ’02 Angels, or the ’04 Red Sox, the way they kept coming. The next game seemed always to be their undoing, when finally they’d be outmanned or exposed, and the next game never came.
They played to the very last inch of the very last game, when they quieted Ron Washington’s feet, and Texas’ heart.
By sunup, the taxis were back.
“Oh my,” the driver said on the way to the airport. “They went all night, until 4. Some are still out there, I think.”
You knew who they were. They were the ones in red. And everyone was red.
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