ST. LOUIS -- Once the champagne had been sprayed, the cameras had vanished and the celebration had slowed, the conversation in the Cardinals' clubhouse turned to the opportunity still ahead.
"The room cleared out and guys were still around, not wanting to go home," manager Mike Matheny said.
They talked of the excitement of reaching baseball's biggest stage, the need to celebrate and honor the accomplishment, and how quickly it can all slip away.
"There are a lot of teams who have had this opportunity and things didn't work out how they wanted them to," Matheny said Sunday afternoon, echoing the comments he made to his players after their pennant-clinching win over the Dodgers on Friday.
"So just keep playing the game. Don't back off a bit. Put the throttle down," he said. "We have one series left here, and let's take them one at a time like we have all year. Don't take anything for granted. Don't minimize what we've done, but don't back off it."
Matheny knows better. Though most of the faces have changed, the 2004 World Series still rings fresh for the Cardinals' skipper and the handful that are still in uniform -- Chris Carpenter, Yadier Molina, John Mabry and Jose Oquendo. Then the club's starting catcher, Matheny's first and only World Series ended in four games, a sweep at the hands of the Red Sox, who now once again stand between the Cardinals and a championship.
"It sure left a sharp bite and it's something you just don't forget," Matheny said. "It went from being the greatest baseball experience I've ever had in my life -- winning 105 games, and being a team that was one of the best I had ever been around -- to having our lunch handed to us in the World Series and really not playing to the caliber that we were capable of. That was one of the toughest experiences of my baseball career.
The Cardinals and Red Sox are meeting in the World Series for the fourth time, tied with three other matchups for fourth-most common all-time.
"You don't forget that. You don't forget what that feels like. You realize how special the opportunity is and not to leave anything on the table."
Growing up in Manchester, N.H., about 45 minutes north of Boston, Carpenter was raised a Red Sox fan. Though his allegiances to his childhood team didn't last long after he was drafted into the division by the Toronto Blue Jays.
"I had to play them 16 times a year," Carpenter said. "[It] goes away in a hurry."
And the team he spent his childhood rooting for added insult to injury in 2004, as Carpenter was forced to watch his teammates lose four straight without him. The nerve issues that would plague him throughout his career first surfaced that year and prevented him from pitching in his first trip to the World Series.
"That's what happens; that's what baseball is about," he said. "You go out and you do the best you can. We made it as far as we could, but the other team won. We've moved on and had some great success since then."
Carpenter would go on to be a key to the Cardinals' championship runs in 2006 and 2011, teams on which Molina and Oquendo were also a part of, but Matheny and Mabry weren't as fortunate. Now the Cards' manager and hitting coach, they're still searching for their first rings.
Matheny signed as a free agent with the San Francisco Giants within a few months of the World Series defeat, and Mabry would leave St. Louis for Chicago after the 2005 campaign. Both rejoined the organization in 2012, Matheny as Tony La Russa's successor and Mabry as assistant hitting coach to Mark McGwire.
"It's one of those things. They played better and they beat us," Mabry said. "That's my only [World Series] experience. I don't like that. Obviously when you put on the uniform, you want to win, and that's what you're after, but I've got no control over it now. I'm just enjoying the ride, watching these guys do their thing."
Though the sting of defeat still lingers, Mabry isn't viewing this year's matchup as a rematch, an opportunity to make up for what was lost in 2004.
"We play the Boston Red Sox on Wednesday night [6:30 CT airtime, 7:07 first pitch]. You've got to score more runs than they do and keep the ball in the park," he said. "For us, it's business as usual. We'll try to go out and take that same approach and beat them."
The only player remaining from that 2004 roster who will actually take the field when the 2013 World Series kicks off Wednesday is Molina, who has come a long way from the fresh-faced rookie who backed up Matheny that year.
A 22-year-old Molina was hardly a factor, appearing in three games in the Series and going hitless in his three at-bats. Nine years later, he's now considered among the best catchers in the game and is one of the Cardinals' most dangerous hitters.
"Back then, I just was a kid trying to learn. Right now, I've got more experience. I see the game," Molina said. "But it's still fun. I'm going to have fun in this series, [and] hopefully we'll win it."
Chad Thornburg is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.