"Now I can say I have a World Series ring in my trophy case," said Albert Pujols. "And that's what you play for. It doesn't matter how much money you make or what kind of numbers you put up in the big leagues. If you walk out of this game and you don't have a ring, you haven't accomplished everything."
The Cardinals have won the World Series more times than any team but the New York Yankees, breaking a tie at nine with the Athletics organization. Manager Tony La Russa, who coincidentally wears No. 10, joins his mentor, Sparky Anderson, as the only skippers in the history of baseball to win world titles in both leagues.
The last St. Louis championship came in 1982. For a franchise accustomed to roosting atop Major League Baseball, the 24-year wait felt interminable, but it's history now. Stars like Pujols, Jim Edmonds and Scott Rolen have earned their stripes, taking their place alongside Bob Gibson, Lou Brock and Stan Musial in the team's lore.
"Bob Gibson congratulated me," La Russa said, "and I said, 'You know, in this organization, until you win a World Series, you're not really part of The Club.' Now this team is part of The Club. And that feels great."
Jeff Weaver gave yet another brilliant playoff performance, twirling eight innings with just four hits and two runs -- one earned. Weaver, known for postseason letdowns before this year, pitched as effectively as any Cardinals starter this October.
David Eckstein's fourth-inning RBI groundout brought home the winning run as the consistently composed Cards kept capitalizing on Tigers mistakes. Three St. Louis runs were at least partly set up by Detroit errors. Eckstein, who went 6-for-9 with four RBIs in Games 4 and 5, was named World Series MVP.
"It's a great honor, but I feel like I was just trying to do what I usually do," Eckstein said. "I just got very fortunate. I found some holes."
The much-maligned Cardinals, the team that came into the World Series with the second-worst record of any pennant winner in history, played poised baseball for a solid week -- and truthfully, throughout all of the postseason. The 95-win Tigers, meanwhile, hurt themselves repeatedly. The Cards found holes. The Tigers stumbled into them.
Making it even sweeter for the Redbirds was closing it out at home, in front of 46,638 chilly but delirious believers. New Busch Stadium is the first park since 1923 to house a world champion in its first year of existence, when the Yankees defeated the Giants in the year they inaugurated Yankee Stadium. It's the first first-year ballpark since Fenway Park in 1912 to see its home team close out the title on home turf -- because the '23 Yanks finished off their title at their former home, the Polo Grounds.
That's a home team that won 83 regular-season games, by the way. At 83-78, St. Louis had the worst regular-season record of any World Series winner in history. Not that it matters when you're hoisting the trophy with the 30 flags.
"We were bad at the end of the season, there isn't any doubt about it," Rolen said. "A lot of people said we backed into the playoffs, and I have no resentment to that. But we didn't have to prove anything to anybody. We barely made the playoffs, and we turned around and played as good baseball as we could play, and ended up being the world champions."
In fact, that difficult regular season may have prepared the Cardinals to win "The Ring," as La Russa calls it (as opposed to "a ring" for the pennant). After a year filled with plenty of tough times, the Cardinals showed poise throughout the playoffs. Tough situations didn't rattle them.
And that applied to everyone. The rookies in the bullpen never wavered. The Cards who already had rings -- Eckstein, Scott Spiezio, Braden Looper, Juan Encarnacion -- carried themselves like they'd been there before. The veterans who had never seen postseason play -- such as Preston Wilson and Ronnie Belliard -- looked like they'd been preparing for their moment for years.
Long gone was the team that had three losing streaks of seven games or more. In its place was the team that raced out to a big early division lead, the team that steamrolled the National League in the 2004 and 2005 regular seasons.
"Going through what we had to go through towards the end of the year, I think, definitely pulled us together," said Chris Duncan. "We went through some rough times, and it didn't come easy for us. It was definitely a grind. It came down to the last game of the season just to get into the playoffs.
"But we knew if we got into the playoffs we'd be a dangerous team. We got some of our key guys back, Eckstein and Edmonds, and they were unbelievable all through the playoffs, and we pulled it off."
The Cards played better defense than the Tigers, and when there were miscues, the pitching bailed the fielders out more often than not. The Redbirds took better, longer, more composed at-bats. And when faced with adversity -- such as a 2-1 fourth-inning deficit in the clincher -- they responded.
In short, the Cardinals played like they'd been here before. And in many cases, they had. Eleven of the 25 players on the St. Louis active roster had appeared in at least one previous World Series. For Detroit, the number was two -- and it was evident.
"We have a lot of guys here who have been through postseason experience, and that may have helped out," Wilson said. "There's also enough veterans who have been around to keep guys on an even keel... We've got so many personalities that have kept us grounded as a team and focused that we really stayed on track."
Yadier Molina, a hero for much of October, started the first rally with a single. He took second on a sacrifice and third on Weaver's groundout, then scored when third baseman Brandon Inge threw away a grounder from Eckstein. The shortstop was credited with a single and an RBI, but the play likely should have been made.
Still, one run wasn't enough to put the Cards in the clear. Duncan's error in right field put Magglio Ordonez on second base in the fourth, leading to Weaver's only slip-up of the night. On the next pitch, Sean Casey hit a two-run homer, giving Detroit the lead. Still, as they've done all postseason, the Cards responded immediately.
Molina and So Taguchi slapped consecutive one-out singles, and Weaver laid down a sacrifice attempt. But in the running subplot of the entire series, a pitcher's defense killed the Tigers.
Detroit starter Justin Verlander attempted to throw out Molina as the lead runner at third, but committed a throwing error that allowed the catcher to score and put men on second and third. With the score tied, Eckstein grounded to short for the deciding run. Rolen poked a two-out RBI single to right in the seventh for an insurance tally.
Once the lead was two, Busch Stadium started looking at another number entirely. Never mind the runs. What mattered was the number of outs, as Weaver and rookie close Adam Wainwright ticked them off one at a time. Wainwright struck out Inge to end it, 24 years and a week after Bruce Sutter recorded the 27th out in Game 7 against the Brewers.
And thus a team that endured injuries, insults and losing streaks had the last laugh. And a city that loves baseball more than just about anything started to celebrate.
"There might be a big party going on out there tonight," Edmonds said. "I hope there is. This city deserves it. It's a big sports city, and when you play in this city, you feel the whole city. You don't just feel it in the clubhouse. You feel the whole city behind you. It's going to be a big deal."
It already is.