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Busch has chance for proper farewell

Busch has chance for proper farewell

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ST. LOUIS -- It was so unthinkable that, frankly, the Cardinals never thought of it. Yet it was one strike away from happening. Venerable Busch Stadium almost saw its 40-season run come to an end with the Cards on the road.

Had St. Louis lost on Monday night in Game 5 of the National League Championship Series, there would never have been another game played in old Busch. The Redbirds will move next door into a new stadium by the same name in 2006. Such an anticlimactic end to a facility that has hosted six World Series and countless memorable moments just wouldn't have been right.

And it will not be. Now, no matter when the final game at Busch takes place, fans will know it's the end. It could come as soon as Wednesday, should the Cardinals lose Game 6 of the NLCS, or Thursday in Game 7. If St. Louis topples Houston for the pennant, it would come in either Game 4 or Game 5 of the World Series, Oct. 26 or 27. But no matter what, there will be no uncertainty. When that game comes, everyone will know. And that's how it should be.

"I don't think anybody really thought about it," said reliever Ray King. "Going into Houston, I didn't think we would lose three games and it would be over. But I guess if you look at things that are destined, maybe we were destined not to have played the last game here."

King didn't even put two and two together until Tuesday.

"I really didn't think about it until today," he said. "I had to go by the car dealership, and one of the guys, a salesperson, said, 'Watching the game, I thought I had seen my last game at Busch Stadium. But now you guys get to close it out the right way.' Let's just hope that we close it out on Oct. 27. I hope we play the last game Oct. 27."

It was Albert Pujols whose home run ensured that the Cardinals will hear their fans roar at least once more this season. Pujols launched a three-run, ninth-inning shot off Astros closer Brad Lidge that extended the '05 campaign.

The slugger never had any doubt that he'd get a few more at-bats at the only Major League ballpark he's called home.

"That's how you were thinking," he said when asked about the possibility. "We weren't thinking like that. If we haven't made that 27th out, we aren't thinking like that. We always had a chance to bring the series back here and be in the situation that we were last year. Hopefully we'll do our best to move on right now. You guys are the ones who think differently."

For Cardinals players, the priority now is the same as it's always been: win the franchise's first World Series championship since 1982. However many games it takes at the old yard to do that, they don't much care. But they also know that the concrete cylinder holds quite a bit of meaning to quite a few people.

"It means a lot," Pujols said. "It means a lot to a lot of the players, a lot of the fans, a lot of the players from the past, Hall of Famers that come to this locker room. But I think it will be more if we can advance to the World Series and hopefully win the World Series."

Closer Jason Isringhausen, a native of the St. Louis area, holds more memories of Busch than most of his teammates. He came to games at the park when it still had artificial turf, when the names were McGee and Smith and Forsch, rather than Pujols and Edmonds and Carpenter.

"I think for the fans, if there is a last game, [it's good that] it's going to be at Busch Stadium. We didn't play it in Houston. We get to come back here and play some more games in front of our fans, and give them whatever we've got.

"You never know what's going to happen. Our main goal was to get back here. We didn't really want to do it in that dramatic a fashion, but it was still fun."

Matthew Leach is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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