The confetti was still flying around Busch Stadium after the World Series-clinching out Friday night and Albert Pujols was already getting the questions.
FOX's Chris Rose, an embarrassment as usual running the postgame ceremonies, asked right on the field in front of the entire crowd and the national television audience. And the media tried prodding Pujols more in the interview room later.
He wouldn't budge, like he didn't the whole series. This is about the team and about winning a world championship, not his impending free agency. The standard reply got more prickly with each probe. But the time has now come for real.
The Cardinals will be feted with a parade down Market Street and a rally at Busch this afternoon but Pujols will already be a free agent. That clock struck at 12:01 a.m. today and you can actually sign with somebody at 12:01 a.m. Thursday.
Pujols won't be doing that, with the Cardinals or anyone else. Figure this one to be a long process as the Cardinals desperately try to keep the face of their franchise and others try to angle their way in. Lance Berkman approached Pujols on the field during the trophy presentation and told him, "Come back. Let's do this again." What did Pujols think of that?
"Just the same thing that I am going to tell you: I was enjoying the moment," Pujols said. "Listen, I'm going to be prayerful about it. Whatever decision I make hopefully is the best decision I make for my family and the fans and everybody. Right now I am just going to enjoy the moment and just celebrate with the guys and pretty much just thank my teammates that helped me out to accomplish another world championship.
"Because at the end of your career, those are the sweeter moments that you take. And there's a lot of tough times that we went through this year and a lot of sweet moments. And the way that we did it is incredible. There's not too many teams in the game that have done it like that. I'm just blessed to be part of that.
"But to talk about my contract right now, that's the last thing that I'm thinking about. I'm just kind of letting everything come in with the game that we won today."
Manager Tony La Russa has stayed in the moment all year, refusing to talk about anything 2012-related, be it Pujols, his own status (he's likely to return) or anything else. But after Game Seven, La Russa finally addressed the topic when asked if he could picture Pujols somewhere else.
"No. No," La Russa said bluntly. "I know it's a great organization, he's a great player, and part of their greatness is their conscience, their intelligence, and they're going to try like heck to make it work. We never talked about it. The season is over, now it's time to start talking about it. They're going to try and make it work and we'll see if it can work or not.
"The organization is going to try to keep him here, and Albert wants to stay here, and best effort, we'll see if it comes off or not."
So if not St. Louis, where? I'd say Washington and the Marlins, heading into a new stadium, are prepared to spend money. But I would think the most likely place would be Wrigley Field, where new president Theo Epstein and new GM Jed Hoyer could make an immediate splash by making a pre-emptive strike on their biggest rival.
Ultimately, however, it has to be St. Louis. The Cardinals are not the Cardinals without No. 5. They have a bunch of small statues of some of their all-time greats outside the Busch gift shop and a huge one of Stan Musial by the third base gate. There would be another huge one by first base someday if Pujols stays.
Game Six was historic
You still have to shake your head about the Cardinals' whole run. From 10 1/2 out in the wild-card race to the Game Five win in Philadelphia. But seriously. Down to the last strike twice? In back-to-back innings?
There had only been one last-strike-to-lose survivor in 106 years of the World Series and that was the '86 Mets in the Buckner game. And now St. Louis did it twice in about 15 minutes? That was crazy.
"It's just typical of our club," La Russa said. " Now it's time to think about Game Six, and that's part of this historic run. It's hard to explain how we made it happen except the club has great guts. Really we have more talent than people think, but we have great guts."
The Rangers, meanwhile, were clearly still stunned by their near-miss in Game Six when they tried to play Game Seven.
"Sometimes when opportunity is in your presence, you certainly can't let it get away because sometimes it takes a while before it comes back," manager Ron Washington said after Game Seven. "If there's one thing that happened in this World Series that I'll look back on, it's being so close, just having one pitch to be made and one out to be gotten, and it could have been a different story.
"But you know, when you're a champion, you keep fighting, and St. Louis fought, came back, got us yesterday, and they beat us tonight."
Washington was out La Russa-ing La Russa in the early part of the series. But I hated the fact he was bunting for the tying run with the top of his order in the fifth inning of Game Seven (say what?) and I'll forever say he blew it in Game Six when he didn't bring closer Neftali Feliz back for the 10th inning after Josh Hamilton's go-ahead home run.
Sure, Feliz threw 22 pitches and gave up two runs in the ninth but the Cardinals had Daniel Descalso, John Jay and the pitcher's spot up in the 10th. And you pull your closer and go with Darren Oliver because he's a lefty?
"The lineup set up perfectly for lefty lefty, two lefties and a pitcher," Washington insisted. "The Lord just didn't want this to end in six. That's all. The matchup couldn't have been better."
Whatever. One trusted confidante texted me after the game, "[Rollie] Fingers or Goose [Gossage] would have fought [Washington] if he tried to take him out after an inning in that spot."
Seriously. Feliz had until spring training to rest. So you don't use him and he never pitches in the series again and you lose anyway. Brilliant.
The Cardinals and Rangers play in the Midwest so you don't see them on TV nearly as much as you should. And they don't play in historic places either, with new Busch opening in 2006 and Rangers Ballpark dating only to 1994.
But judging from my email, I know there's a lot of ballpark travel nuts out there. And you have my full two thumbs-up for any trip you might want to take to either World Series venue.
Both places are great fun, have great seating and the food and beverage options, run by Buffalo-based Delaware North, are spectacular. Concourses are a little tighter in St. Louis, as new Busch was built on a tight footprint next to the old one but there's plenty to see and do in both places.
You need a car to get to Arlington, halfway between Dallas and Fort Worth, and its expansive parking lots. You can take the convenient MetroLink in St. Louis or enjoy a pleasant downtown walk from numerous hotels and restaurants.
Around the horn
Just wondering: We definitely would have heard a lot more crabbing about the Cardinals hosting Game Seven had the opponents been the Yankees or Red Sox, right? But it's really the Rangers' own fault: Remember, it was C.J. Wilson who took the loss in the All-Star Game in Phoenix when he gave up a three-run homer to Prince Fielder.
I imagine Washington will push even harder to win next year's game in Kansas City when he manages the AL again.
You have to wonder if the Rangers are going to pony up the big money for Wilson after another dreary postseason run. Lots of talk at the series they may be blanching with the Nationals and Marlins poised to strike.
Classy move by Epstein taking out a full-page ad in the Boston Globe thanking the Red Sox fans and organization for their roles in his success over the last decade. He's got a huge task ahead of him. The Cubs' farm system is weak and, for all its charm, Wrigley Field is in nowhere near the shape of Fenway Park structurally or as a revenue generator as it heads toward its 100th anniversary in 2014.
These were some of the last words written Friday night by ESPN.com's Jim Caple, one of the great media characters I'm lucky enough to talk to every year at the Series: "If you aren't a baseball fan after this fall, there really is no hope."