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Potential Cup clincher is latest marquee event to hit St. Louis

Mike Harrington

ST. LOUIS ā€“ It's just random chance landings I've had here over the years. Add another one to the list of a wild run at the mouth of the Mississippi.

The Stanley Cup was in town Sunday night with the St. Louis Blues trying to raise it for the first time in their 52-year history with a win over the Boston Bruins in Game 6 of the Cup final.

And for all the talk of Boston's cavalcade of championships in multiple sports, there probably isn't a midsized city in the country that has more of a run of great events than this town has had in recent years.

Now, there's been lots more heartbreak in that span than folks in Boston have experienced. And remember that the Red Sox and Patriots were directly responsible for doling some of that out in recent years.

The new Busch Stadium, opened in 2006, is adjacent to a vast retail and residential development called Ballpark Village, which is across the street and located on the site of the old Busch. When its 29-story residential tower is completed next year, the total cost to the project will be $360 million.

Somewhere in the array of restaurants and construction is the spot of first base at old Busch.

That's where Boston first baseman Doug Mientkiewicz took the flip from pitcher Keith Foulke to seal the first Red Sox World Series title in 86 years. The four-game sweep of the 105-win Cardinals in 2004 seemed like a done deal after the Sox came back on the Yankees to win the final four games of the historic '04 ALCS.

But if you want a window to St. Louis, I'll give you this tale. Back in the pre-Twitter and pre-morning newspaper days, I left the press box after the eighth inning to get a closer look at the historic ninth and get a head start to the Red Sox clubhouse. Fans were streaming out with the Cardinals losing, so I moved into a 100-level seat behind home plate.

As the Boston half of the ninth moved on, it was striking how many Red Sox fans filled in the same seats. Ostensibly, they had moved from the upper environs of the some to get that same close look at history and they reveled in the sights of the long-awaited Boston celebration.

A couple of days later as Boston fans returned home and started to spread the word, the Midwest hospitality they received began to filter out. Many Sox fans came to St. Louis without tickets, just to be around the stadium if their team finally won it all. At the end of the eighth inning, Cardinals officials green-lighted security staff to allow them inside to watch the last inning. Quite a gesture indeed.

THE CURSE GETS EIGHTY-SIXED: Red Sox crowning moment tops off postseason run for the ages

It was back to St. Louis in 2005 for the Final Four at the Edward Jones Dome, then home of the Rams. North Carolina beat top-ranked Illinois in an entertaining final as Sean May earned Most Outstanding Player honors 29 years after his father, Scott, led Indiana to its perfect season.

A third straight trip in 2006 saw big things happen again as the Cardinals christened new Busch's first year with a five-game World Series triumph over Detroit, made most memorable by the five errors committed by Tigers' pitchers. The next spring, manager Jim Leyland made sure to convene pitchers' fielding practice on the first day of camp.

The scene after the clinching Game 5 was a wild party outside with cars honking their horns and random fans hugging and high-fiving in the streets. There was none of the random madness and destruction that punctuated downtown Philadelphia two years later.

The 2011 World Series was a seven-game Cardinals win over Texas. Game 7 was a 6-2 victory that was anticlimactic after St. Louis' incredible 10-9, 11-inning victory in Game 6. That was the game the Rangers were one strike away from a title with a two-run lead in both the ninth and 10th innings ā€“ and blew the lead both times. St. Louis won it on a David Freese home run leading off the 11th. It was a deadline-busting story that was probably rewritten five times. Not the best night of one's career.

Down to their last strike twice, Cardinals win one for all time

In May 2013, it was time to follow Ryan Miller to his one playoff run with the Blues. The beginning of the end was a Game 5 overtime loss here on a Jonathan Toews breakaway. That was followed by a Game 6 blowout in Chicago, sending Miller into free agency and off to Vancouver. That October, the Red Sox won another World Series here in the "Boston Strong" year, a six-gamer best remembered for David Ortiz's dugout exhorting of his struggling teammates that helped turn Game 5.

There were tornado warnings during the pregame warmup of the Sabres' 2014 visit here, with scoreboard messages urging people away from the glass portions of the concourse and press box ushers telling us which stairwell to shelter in if the need arose. Yikes.

Lots of wild memories. Which brings us to this season. When the Sabres visited here two days after Christmas, do you remember they were 15 points ahead of the Blues in the NHL standings?

From that date to the end of the season, the Blues outpointed Buffalo by 38. Then moved through the playoffs to get to the precipice of their first Cup. The building was full, of course, with the entire city hopeful of a clincher that was generations in the making. And outside on Market Street, around 40,000 fans were watching on big screens.

Another big event in the shadow of the Gateway Arch. There's been a ton of them over the last 15 years.

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