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Cards' celebration familiar, but no less sweet

Busch Stadium faithful, club veterans rejoice as St. Louis advances to NLCS

ST. LOUIS -- From the moment Matt Adams' bat struck the ball in the bottom of the eighth inning Wednesday night, it was as though the corks began to twist on the champagne bottles in the home clubhouse at Busch Stadium, and anywhere else passion for the Cardinals courses through the hearts of baseball fans.

And sure enough, within a matter of minutes, the celebration would begin -- on the field, then in the Cardinals' clubhouse, after St. Louis closed out a 6-1 victory over the Pirates in Game 5 of the National League Division Series on Wednesday night.

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The celebration started bubbling to the surface once the team's red-clad faithful had leaped to their feet as Adams' two-run blast went sailing into the night sky and deep into the bleachers, and the hefty rookie could hardly feel his feet pounding the way around the bases.

"I can't really put it into words," Adams would say later. "Being able to watch it go out of the ballpark and hearing the crowd erupt was something special."

Most of that crowd remained standing and cheering for the duration of the game, knowing what the next few minutes would have in store, having been there before.

They chanted "Waino" as Adam Wainwright took the mound for the ninth inning with a five-run lead, and the man who embodies as much as anyone the spirit of the organization didn't disappoint -- nor did the majesty of the moment elude the veteran right-hander.

"I almost couldn't contain myself," Wainwright said. "Honestly, I had chill bumps from my head to my toes."

Working through the heart of the Pirates' lineup, Wainwright unleashed his 107th pitch of the night, Bucs slugger Pedro Alvarez swung through it and the celebration was on, and the corks were about to come off.


Cue the fireworks, with Wainwright screaming to the heavens before becoming engulfed in teammates. Red and white confetti went floating in the autumn air, along with anticipation of a third consecutive appearance in the NL Championship Series.

Once again, with a Game 5 victory before the home crowd, the Cards finished off a clinching win at Busch Stadium, and another celebration ensued.

In the clubhouse, the raucous party that goes along with advancing in the playoffs had to wait a bit, as Wainwright conducted interviews on the field. Once he arrived, he shared a few words with his teammates before the champagne and a certain brand of beer with a Cardinals red label began flying around the room.

A well-earned party was at hand, and this team of core veterans and unexpected young contributors was enjoying the moment as one happy band of ballplayers.

It's a party Carlos Beltran, one of the greatest postseason players in history, has attended many times before, each occasion becoming something to cherish.

"It gets better," Beltran said. "This doesn't get old. It doesn't matter if you have been in the playoffs one time or 10 times. It really doesn't get old. It's a great opportunity, it's a great feeling, it's a great blessing and I feel very fortunate."

This time, Beltran could look around the room and see players he's known for years, and players he's known for months. He looks at players much younger than he is soaking in the champagne shower, and he smiles a broad smile.

"It's great to see that," Beltran said. "This is what you call a team. You don't depend on only one or two guys, you depend on everyone."

And that's the formula that has gotten the Cards through so much adversity this year -- injuries to key players and all the rest. It could be said it's even more than a team victory -- it's an organization that was celebrating an accomplishment that required the help of everyone to get to this point.

Standing in a corner of the clubhouse watching the rookies and veterans bond in bubbly, Cardinals general manager John Mozeliak knew this was not just about veterans like Yadier Molina and Matt Holliday, but about youngsters like Adams and pitching phenom Michael Wacha -- all winners, all experiencing the same joy.

"I've always felt it's sort of a great model when you have a diverse portfolio," Mozeliak said. "The thing about it is, we've always known we had the core players -- the Beltrans, the Molinas, the Wainwrights, the Hollidays. The defining success would be, could our complementary players and our young group come in and make it work? And they did."

Although Adams' blast got the ball rolling, it was when Wainwright's third straight curveball landed in Molina's glove that the party truly began at Busch Stadium.

By the time all the players and staff made it into their home clubhouse, the lovefest was just beginning. Once again, the Cards had something to celebrate.

"This organization is amazing," Molina said. "We care about each other, and we never give up. We never think about losing, and that's a good thing."

John Schlegel is a national reporter for

St. Louis Cardinals