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Cardinals veterans get long-elusive ring

Cardinals veterans get long-elusive ring

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Cardinals veterans get long-elusive ring
ST. LOUIS -- Tony La Russa knows how much it means to win a World Series. So when his team trailed after a Game 5 loss, he thought of the veteran players on his team that had never been fortunate enough to do so.

"Geez, I hope we can pull this off so they can experience a world championship," La Russa said in his press conference during Tuesday's workout day.

Three days and two wins later, La Russa and the Cardinals did pull it off. And guys like Lance Berkman, Rafael Furcal, Arthur Rhodes and Octavio Dotel earned their first rings.

Between them, the four veterans have played 58 seasons, 4,851 games and 160 postseason games. And now they can each say they've won a World Series.

"I'm happy for all of them," La Russa said amid the on-field ceremonies following Game 7. "The young guys, they may never see another World Series. But the old guys, they've paid so many dues -- they're liable to slap me if they heard me say that -- the veterans, that paid so many dues, Arthur, Dotel, Furcal, [Nick] Punto, [Ryan] Theriot, Berkman, these guys, this is what you dream about. We're happy as an organization to help make it happen."

For Rhodes, earning a World Series ring was guaranteed once the matchup was the Cardinals and Rangers. With the 42-year-old lefty having played for the Rangers much of the season before joining the Cardinals, he would get his first ring either way.

But to be on the winning side Friday night, and celebrate with his teammates, Rhodes got his World Series ring the way he wanted.

"This feels great right now. World Series champs -- I'm having fun," Rhodes said. "They talk about 'You get a ring either way,' and I said I'd love to get one with St. Louis. Got one with St. Louis now."

Rhodes completed his 20th season in 2011, having pitched in 900 games for nine different teams over a span of 21 years. He has 29 postseason games to his credit, including Game 7, in which he recorded one out when called upon to do so.

But now that he's got his World Series ring, Rhodes is not about to hang it up. He said during the clubhouse celebration that he expects to pitch at least another year, maybe two.

"I made my pitches, got my guy out, and now we're winners," Rhodes said. "It means a lot to me. I've played this game a long time, I stuck around, I finally got my ring, and I'm happy."

When he was a free agent following a disappointing 2010 season, Berkman chose the Cardinals because he thought they could give him the best chance at a World Series title. The Rangers were near the top of his list, too, but the Cardinals won out.

Berkman playing for the Cardinals was an intriguing fit, considering he had never really liked the St. Louis ballclub while playing the majority of his career with the Astros. But when the final out was recorded, Berkman sprinted in and gave La Russa a big hug.

"I love Tony. I have so much respect for him, and he's a pleasure to play for. You can't say enough good things about the guy," said Berkman, who never would have imagined himself feeling that way about La Russa before this season.

"No, I wouldn't have. In fact, I really wanted to do some not-nice things to him, playing against him. But now playing for him, I'd run through a brick wall. He's that kind of guy."

Berkman, 35, has played 13 seasons in the big leagues, 12 of which he spent all or most of with the Astros. He has played in 1,774 regular-season games and 52 postseason games.

After imagining winning a world championship for so long, was the real thing as good as Berkman thought it would be?

"Better. Way better," Berkman said. "You can't imagine the exhilaration of finally winning it, particularly in the fashion that we did. It's not like we swept four games and they were laughers. We had to fight this whole series. We were down and we came back."

Dotel, like Rhodes, joined the Cardinals in late July to bolster the bullpen down the stretch. It was the 12th team and sixth trade in 13 seasons for the veteran right-hander.

After 695 games, and 20 more in his postseason career, Dotel got his first World Series title.

"That's what all of us less-experienced guys, we talk about that all the time, 'Let's get these veterans that have done this for so long, let's get these guys a ring and keep working,'" said David Freese, the World Series MVP. "I think I heard a stat or something that Dotel has been traded five times in the middle of a season, and on each occasion he never played in the playoffs until this year. I mean, that's incredible. And for those guys to get this is amazing."

Furcal was another key midseason acquisition for the Cardinals, shoring up their defense in the middle of the infield and providing a veteran presence in the leadoff spot.

He had the most experience of the four, having now played in 59 postseason games, but it took until his 12th season to get to -- and win -- a World Series.

Said Albert Pujols: "It's unbelievable to be a part of -- just giving Arthur Rhodes, a guy that has been in the league [21] years, Octavio Dotel, Rafael Furcal, all those guys the opportunity, along with us to win another championship, is pretty special."

Jordan Schelling is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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