posted on October 29, 2011 00:00
It was never about how happy the flight was.
In the same way, Nick Punto's alter ego, The Shredder, didn't win them any ballgames. And although this may be an unpopular sentiment, not once did they do it for Torty.
Those were all just distractions, fun diversions from the grind of a 162-game schedule. But no matter what slogans or stuffed squirrels made a cameo in the locker room after the Cardinals clinched their eleventh world championship, they never propelled this team of improbable champions to victory.
Watching first baseman Albert Pujols, after the completion of what may have been his last game as a member of the St. Louis Cardinals, dance in a circle with reliever Octavio Dotel and shortstop Rafael Furcal - two players acquired at the trade deadline who had never won a World Series ring - it became clear that they didn't win it for a fake turtle. They won it for each other.
Manager Tony La Russa said from the outset that there was something unique, something special about this group of players. The influx of leadership, including the signings of outfielder Lance Berkman and second baseman Punto, along with a returning group of veterans like Pujols, Skip Schumaker and Chris Carpenter gave the team an identity that La Russa appreciated, and particularly enjoyed, all season.
"This one is just different," La Russa said of the most recent world championship. "It was really hard and it was different. As I said a couple days ago, it's like your favorite dog, favorite cat. They're just different. They're still your favorites. But in the end, I mean, as a staff, a lot of us have been together a long time, and we have always gotten turned on by veterans who have a chance to win a world championship.
"So it's really special for some of those guys that paid a lot of dues, great players, never get to the World Series, some get there and don't win it. We share that with -- even the young guys, this may be the last time you play in it, you don't have any assurances.
"You know that turns our staff on and has for years, and it's part of what we try to talk to the players about, and today, this year, it worked. I'm really happy for all the organization, but I'm especially happy for the first timers."
Those first timers include Dotel and Furcal as well as pitchers Marc Rzepczynski and Edwin Jackson, acquired in two separate trades around the trade deadline. Arthur Rhodes, who came into the league in 1991, signed with the club in in mid-August after being cut loose by the same Texas Rangers he helped the Cardinals beat.
Another first timer, Lance Berkman, was maybe the most integral to the team's World Series run. Berkman, who signed a one-year deal in the offseason, hit .313 in the postseason, including .423 in the World Series. He was also one of the team's most vocal leaders throughout the season.
The moves were made in an attempt to give the club new life. What it ended up giving the team was a new goal.
"That's what all of us less experienced guys, we talk about that all the time," World Series MVP David Freese said. "Let's get these veterans that have done this for so long, let's get these guys a ring."
Chris Carpenter, the winning pitcher in the decisive Game 7, said it's a source of pleasure to get to share the moment with those veteran additions.
"For guys that have never been a part of this, it is really gratifying for players that have because we've played so long," Carpenter said. "And guys play this game for one thing - most of them. And it's for the world championship.
"You think about that when you're a kid. And to have the opportunity to be able to experience that with guys like Arthur, and guys like 'Dotie' and guys like Furcal - people that haven't experienced this before that have been around for a long time - is amazing."
And it almost didn't happen. During a particularly rough stretch of baseball in late August that, at its worst, dropped the Cardinals to 10.5 games behind the Milwaukee Brewers in the NL Central, Carpenter and some other veterans called a players-only, closed-door meeting to discuss some of the team's problems.
"It was about not embarrassing ourselves," Carpenter said. "It was about continuing to play hard, to give something for our fans no matter if we won or didn't win. It was about playing hard and playing like we're capable of.
"Also not giving up. It was a nice conversation, I think. It wasn't that big of a deal. It was just, lets go play and have some fun. I love these guys. And I said it. I said it to start the meeting, I said, this is the best group of guys I've ever been a part of. And there's been some things on this club that I've had so much fun being a part of. And when I come to the ballpark, to be able to see these guys everyday has been great. And I didn't want to ruin that. I didn't want to ruin it for the last month and a half."
Instead, they saved it. The rest, as they say, is history. History culminating in a 6-2 victory Friday night in arguably the organization's least likely championship of the 11.
Pujols said that history, including the ability to pass it along to his new teammates, exemplifies the Cardinals way of doing things.
"This is how this organization works," Pujols said. "The same way that I had in '06, mentoring guys who had been there before to get me the opportunity to win my first one. That's the same feeling that I have to these guys. I just thank god that he helped me out to be a part of that.
"To be a part of giving Arthur Rhodes - a guy that's been in the league for 19 years - Octavio Dotel, Rafael Furcal ... the opportunity, along with us, to win another championship is pretty special."
Special. Now that's a meme capable of withstanding the test of time for the 2011 Cardinals.