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Fans gear up at Cards' Rally Monday

Fans gear up at Cards' Rally Monday

ST. LOUIS -- Jerry Highland has been careful about watching the St. Louis Cardinals during the last few games of the regular season.

"I've been afraid to watch them," Highland said. "I'm afraid if I watch them, they're going to lose."

Highland, who is from Charleston, Ill., was one of several hundred fans cheering on the Cardinals at Rally Monday, and he probably wasn't the only fan there who was afraid to watch down the stretch.

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Monday's event was the third year the Cardinals held a pep rally before the beginning of the playoffs. Unlike the previous seasons, when the Cardinals won the National League Central with a combined 205 victories, the fans on Monday who gathered on Clark Street were a little more nervous than in the previous years.

"I thought we back-ended in a little bit," said Greg Sontag, 53, a South St. Louis County resident. "That was disappointing. But, then again, we came in really strong two years before that. This could be a shot in the arm coming in this way. Maybe they'll play a little harder."

The Cardinals' loss to the Milwaukee Brewers on Sunday at Busch Stadium completed an 83-78 regular season, though the team and fans were able to celebrate another Central Division crown by virtue of the Atlanta Braves' defeat of the Houston Astros.

St. Louis fans were doing the Tomahawk Chop on Sunday afternoon.

"This has been a strange year," Cardinals president Mark Lamping said, during a speech to the crowd.

Lamping walked around and interacted with the gathering on Monday, which congregated in an area behind the outfield bleachers at the new stadium and between where the old Busch Stadium stood for so many years.

"Thank you for your support this year; it was tremendous," Lamping said. "You're the best fans in baseball, there's no doubt about that."

Lamping admitted he was nervous about the way the regular season ended, but he reminded the gathering on Monday that Chicago White Sox fans probably experienced a similar nervousness at this time a year ago.

That was when the White Sox barely made the playoffs, before manager Ozzie Guillen's pitching staff caught fire and rolled through the playoffs en route to winning the World Series for the first time in nearly nine decades.

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"I think we have the pitching to do it," Sontag said.

Sontag and the rest of the Cardinals fans will find out soon enough. St. Louis ace Chris Carpenter is scheduled to start Tuesday's National League Division Series opener against the Padres in San Diego.

The fans received free gifts from various sponsors, were able to purchase their favorite stadium concession stand items and there were areas for children to play.

Fredbird and his team made an appearance, as did St. Louis Mayor Francis Slay and former Cardinals players Al Hrabosky, Rick Horton and Danny Cox. The band Joe Dirt performed for the crowd. Fireworks were scheduled for later on.

"It's been really fun," said Mary Cox of Greenup, Ill.

Nate Latsch is a contributor to MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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