St. Louis Albert Pujols tried to give away nothing during the celebration, tried to stay in the moment. But what a moment it was.
Getting another taste of that championship feeling surely will tip the scales in favor of the St. Louis Cardinals at least a little bit when it comes time to talk contract.
“Obviously, right now a lot of things go through my head and thinking about the whole season,” Pujols said at the podium after the Cardinals won their 11th World Series.
“Probably like two or three weeks from now, that’s when I’m really going to be sitting down and saying, ‘Wow, where we were, and now we’re the 2011 World Champions.’ It’s unbelievable.”
What remained of Friday after the Cardinals finished off the Texas Rangers in Game 7 was for savoring one of the most unlikely comebacks in major league history. Hundreds of fans peacefully roamed the downtown streets well into the night.
“Truly a dream come true,” manager Tony La Russa said. “It’s hard to really imagine it actually happened.”
Today, the team will bask in adulation once again with a victory parade scheduled for late afternoon. In 2006, the team estimated between 300,000 and a half-milllion people lined the streets.
Five players remain from 2006, when the Cardinals backed into the postseason as an 83-win team and then got hot when key players got healthy. Pujols, Yadier Molina, Skip Schumaker and Chris Carpenter and Adam Wainwright remain from that team, which also was lightly regarded.
Can’t top 2011.
“This team is unbelievable,” Carpenter said after beating the Rangers for the second time. “Most amazing team I’ve ever been a part of.”
General manager John Mozeliak takes special satisfaction in the championship. The moves he made at the trade deadline for shortstop Rafael Furcal, starter Edwin Jackson and three relievers finally paid off in September, and well beyond.
“All you can do is live and die with your club,” Mozeliak said. “To sit here now and be on top, it’s just a wonderful experience.”
Mozeliak can’t celebrate for long, though.
“I would say I have about a 72-hour window to enjoy this,” Mozeliak said. “And then right back it Monday.”
A weighty decision looms: Can the Cardinals persuade Pujols to stay? Would extra millions he might make elsewhere compensate for shedding the role of local icon?
He seemed pretty proud about his place in St. Louis after Game 7.
“It doesn’t matter the numbers, it doesn’t matter the records, it doesn’t matter the money that you make,” Pujols said. “What matters is to raise that trophy and to be able to bring that smile to the city of St. Louis.
“And not just the city of St. Louis, but all our fans around the world.”
Mozeliak has more than just Pujols on his plate. But after the postseason, the roster just seemed so much deeper.
October brought out new stars in third baseman David Freese, the MVP of both the NLCS and World Series, and Allen Craig, whose big bat helped the team overcome injuries to cleanup hitter Matt Holliday.
Freese was the Cardinals’ most dangerous hitter throughout the playoffs.
Craig’s homer was the go-ahead hit in Game 7, and then he robbed Nelson Cruz of a homer with a catch high above the left field wall.
Pitching stalwarts emerged, too. Hard-throwing Jason Motte nailed down the closer role that was up for grabs most of the year. Relievers Marc Rzepczynski and Lance Lynn stepped up alongside veterans Octavio Dotel and Arthur Rhodes, who both played in their first World Series.
All five starters are under contract for next season.
If Pujols decides to leave, there is a Plan B. Berkman, the NL comeback player of the year, could move to first and Craig could be the regular right fielder.
And the Cardinals would have plenty left to spend on other upgrades. They’ve expressed interest in retaining Furcal, but at much less than his $12 million option.
Jackson is a free agent, too, and a player the Cardinals had figured they were just renting. That championship feeling had him thinking St. Louis was the place to be.
“Man, if we could be like this every year, why not?” Jackson said. “I’m sure the city is going crazy right now and without them we couldn’t have gotten it done.”
The victory parade will be led by a team of Budweiser Clydesdales and include marching bands from four area high schools, with players riding atop trucks. A ceremony will follow at Busch Stadium.