Whirlwind title run is credit to Cards' brass

Whirlwind title run is credit to Cards' brass

Whirlwind title run is credit to Cards' brass
ST. LOUIS -- It was perhaps fitting on Friday night that the Cardinals were presented with their 11th World Series trophy just as rain began to drizzle around and on the platform where Commissioner Bud Selig handed the gleaming, golden crown jewel to club chairman Bill DeWitt, general manager John Mozeliak and manager Tony La Russa, among others.

The inclement weather has been a constant during this postseason just as it has been for a Cards comeback in so many different sets of circumstances.

As chairman and general partner, DeWitt has now presided over three pennants and two World Series titles, but this one was the sweetest. The Cardinals defeated the Tigers in five games in 2006 and were swept by the Red Sox in '04.

"This year was just incredible," a damp DeWitt told MLB.com after he came down from the platform to mill around in a crowd of players and well-wishers on the infield dirt. "I told these guys that it was the most fun I've had in baseball to see this run. I mean, to be out as far as we were. We had so many tough games that we lost.

"We took it down to the last week of the season, the last game of the season to win the National League's Wild Card berth. We came back to beat the Phillies in five games in the NL Division Series. We took it down to the last strike of Game 6. Twice. We were done."

How many heart attacks had he survived?

"Enough," De Witt said.

The journey all began for St. Louis on Feb. 15, when DeWitt went to the White House to attend the ceremony in which Cardinals great Stan Musial was among a group of dignitaries awarded the Medal of Freedom by President Barack Obama. The next day, the Cards terminated contract extension talks with current legend Albert Pujols, and that set the tone for the first half of the season.

When the Cardinals' owners gathered in August in the shadow of the National Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, N.Y., for their quarterly summer meetings, DeWitt was among the group that was already licking its wounds from a tough season. A playoff run and a World Series title were the furthest things from his mind.

"When we were 10 1/2 games back at one point, it looked bleak," DeWitt said. "But our guys kept playing and we said maybe we'd get to 90 [wins], and if we do, we'd have a shot. And that's what happened. So it was Stan to the world championship. Not a bad season."

The Cardinals reached 90 wins on the final day of the regular season, when they pounded the Astros in Houston. Only an hour or so later, the Braves lost to the Phillies in Atlanta in extra innings and the Wild Card berth belonged to St. Louis.

The season ended in stark contrast to 2006, the last time the Cardinals won the World Series, also beating the Tigers in the clincher on their home turf. They backed into the playoffs, losing nine of their last 12 and watching their seven-game lead in the NL Central shrink to a half-game over the final two weeks. But they held off the Astros, winning the division by a game and a half.

La Russa opted to use Adam Wainwright as the closer in place of the injured Jason Isringhausen, and from there, the Cards took off, beating the Padres in four games, upsetting the highly favored Mets on the road in seven games, and then tossing aside the Tigers in the World Series.

This year, the momentum carried them past the Phillies in five games, the Brewers in six and the Rangers in seven.

"To be a part of all this history is special," said Mozeliak, assistant general manager under current Reds GM Walt Jocketty when the Cards won in 2006. "When I think about how important the Cardinals are in the game of baseball, to have been a part of it is just going to make for a wonderful memory."

The Cardinals are to the NL as the Yankees are to the American League. They are not close to New York's 40 pennants and 27 World Series titles, but they are NL royalty just the same, having won 18 and 11. The two teams have played each other five times in the World Series, with the Cards having won three of them.

Ten of St. Louis' 18 World Series have gone to the limit, with the Cardinals having won seven. They defeated the Yankees in seven games in 1926 and 1964, the last time the two clubs met in the postseason. The Cards also won in seven against the Philadelphia A's in 1931, the Tigers in '34, the Red Sox in '46 and '67, and the Brewers in '82.

With the win, La Russa became the second manager in club history to guide the team to two World Series titles. Billy Southworth, a recent Hall of Famer, is the other, having taken the Cardinals to the promised land in 1942 and '44 as his club won three pennants in a row.

La Russa ends the World Series second on the all-time postseason list with 70 wins, 14 behind Joe Torre. If La Russa, who has 2,728 regular-season victories, chooses to come back next season, his 36th win will shoot him past John McGraw (2,763 wins) into second place on the all-time regular-season list.

"Tony was a Hall of Famer before, and this just solidifies it," Mozeliak said about a manager who also took his A's teams to three consecutive AL pennants from 1988-90 and a World Series sweep of the Giants in '89. "If there was any doubt, this just puts it to rest. People in this town sometimes wondered how he was welcomed and appreciated. But now I think they realize his greatness."

Pujols, of course, is still an open question. He becomes a free agent at 12:01 a.m. ET on Sunday. The Cardinals then have an exclusive five-day period to try to sign the slugger who tied World Series records in Game 3 by hitting three homers and knocking in six runs, and set two more by collecting 14 total bases and banging out hits in four consecutive innings. He made $16 million this season in the final year of a multiyear contract. St. Louis had a $105 million payroll, one that Mozeliak said earlier in the Series that he doesn't foresee significantly increasing.

"I'm going to take 72 hours to enjoy this, and then it's back to work," Mozeliak said when asked about Pujols.

DeWitt also was trying to bask in the immediate glow of victory before facing the tough decisions ahead.

"We'll deal with that in the offseason," DeWitt added about Pujols.

Then as the rain slowed to a trickle, he stopped dead in his tracks.

"I guess the offseason just started," he said.

Barry M. Bloom is national reporter for MLB.com and writes an MLBlog, Boomskie on Baseball. Follow @boomskie on Twitter. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.