Once again, there is joy in Budville.
It hasn't been here since 1968, the year when Busch Stadium brewed its most recent pennant winner. "But the only similarity between this year's team and the Cardinals of 1968," says Red Schoendist, then the manager, now a coach, "is in the standings."
Indeed, for these St. Louis Cardinals, magic again graces their pennant-pushing numbers. It is late September and as the Mississippi prepares to freeze, so, it seems, do the Philadelphia Phillies.
Even after the Chicago Cubs' 6-1 victory over the Cardinals today, St. Louis' magic number took a delightful dip as the New York Mets beat the Phillies, 6-4. Ferguson Jenkins (13-15), who got his 277th career victory, held the Cardinals to seven hits before leaving with one out in the ninth; he also hit a double.
So St. Louis still has a 5 1/2-game lead in the National League East; six games are left and the Cardinals' magic number is two.
"We may have surprised other people," said Jim Kaat, the pitcher of 24 seasons. "But we sure haven't surprised ourselves."
It has been a season of stability for the Cardinals, who finished with the best overall record in the division last year, but were left out of the playoffs and frowning like the Gateway Arch because of the split season.
This year, the Cardinals won 12 straight games in April and their lead swelled to 5 1/2 games in early June.
But it was an eight-game winning streak from Sept. 14-Sept. 20 that had the team moving in fast-forward: from one-half game behind the Phillies to 5 1/2 games in front.
And it has all been accomplished with a league-low 62 home runs. As first baseman Keith Hernandez says, "We're the classic example: pitching, defense, speed and timely hitting."
We begin with pitching: The starters are Joaquin Andujar, Bob Forsch, Steve Mura and John Stupor. "No Carlton," says catcher Darrell Porter. "Just quality."
Quality includes a 3.32 earned run average (third best in the NL). This staff also gave up just seven runs in that recent eight-game winning streak that will become known as the season's turning point when the two magic numbers disappear.
"During that eight-game streak," says Hernandez, "Sandy Koufax, Don Drysdale, Bob Feller and Ryne Duren couldn't have pitched better."
Andujar (15-10) hasn't lost since Aug. 6; Forsch (15-9) is pitching like he did in 1977 when he won 20 games; Mura (12-10) and rookie Stupor (9-6) have made this all-right handed rotation simply all right. When the Cardinals have needed a fifth starter it has usually been lefty Dave LaPoint (8-3).
There is another factor to the pitching success. "We wouldn't be here if it weren't for Bruce Sutter," says Manager Whitey Herzog.
Sutter, the bullpen bully, has nine victories and 35 saves. "We know we only have to make it to the seventh inning," says middle-reliever Kaat.
Now, we move to the speed and defense:
"You have to build a club around your ballpark," says Herzog, sounding like a manager. Then he spoke like the general manager who traded 13 players for 10 players in the 1980 winter meetings: "This park is big. We needed speed and defense. So I went out and got them."
He traded for the Smiths: left fielder Lonnie came in from Philadelphia; shortstop Ozzie came in from the Padres.
Lonnie is hitting .308 and threatens to become the first player since Ty Cobb (1915) to have 70 RBI and 70 stolen bases in the same season. He is two RBI and four steals shy right now. "I feel like I've gotten redemption on the Phillies," he says.
Ozzie is hitting .251 and he has 25 of the Cardinals' league-high 192 steals. He has many more steals in the field. "He's saved at least 100 runs for us," says Herzog.
"I've played with shortstops on pennant teams like Larry Bowa in Philadelphia and Zoilo Versailles and Leo Cardenas in Minnesota. They were outstanding," says Kaat, the pitcher of the ages, "but they weren't Ozzie."
Finally, there is the timely hitting:
Lonnie Smith is third in the league in hitting, Hernandez is four players and six percentage points back at .302. Right fielder George Hendrick is third in the league in RBI with 103.
Rookies David Green (.299) and Willie McGee (.297) split center field with veteran-like productivity. ("And I only wanted to make it to Triple-A this year," says McGee, traded to St. Louis before this year after four seasons in the Yankee farm system in which he never got past Double-A.)
Again, Kaat: "When I got here in April 1980, there were some bitter players here. After wins, they were really high and played music boxes loud. Then Whitey came in the middle of the season and eliminated the little things like the music boxes. He put things on an even keel. If any players were unhappy, they weren't buried on the end of the bench. They were gone."
So as another 46,789 came to the final regular-season home game today, it pushed the final attendance to 2,111,906, surpassing the club record set in 1967.
Whitey Herzog smiled.
"Right now, people around the country know this team, but not the individuals," he said. "Wait until we get the exposure of the playoffs. They'll see."