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Can Cardinals revive the spirit of '82?

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon, Oct. 25, 2011 - Beaten up by the American League's champion bruisers, the dispirited Cardinals returned to St. Louis late at night, trailing 3 games to 2. Their backs were up against the wall; they needed to win two straight games at home to win the World Series.

Their closer was a bearded flame thrower, their manager a master tactician, their fans fanatical. Rain was in the gloomy forecast for Game 6, and no one knew whether the mix of young guys and star players could revive the spirit deflated by a tough Game 5 loss that used up their best pitcher.

Does that sound a little like the 2011 Cardinals? In reality, the year was 1982. Instead of the power-happy Texas Rangers, the slugging opponent back then was "Harvey's Wallbangers" -- the AL Milwaukee Brewers team with so-so pitching but stellar hitting. And instead of Busch Stadium II, the stage for this week's Series finale will be Busch III.

Like today -- when the Cardinals woke up after an "unhappy flight" from Texas after losing Monday to the Rangers, 4-2 -- the 1982 Redbirds were on the ropes when they returned home, knowing that one loss would end their season. And the Wallbangers, like today's Rangers, were on a roll and ready to finish off the Birds and win their first World Series title.

But something special happened in those last two games of October 1982 , which I covered as a young journalist. The bruised but unflappable Redbirds revived, the fans went wild, and the stars converged in a way that brought the 9th World Series trophy to St. Louis.

Take heart, Cardinal Nation: it could happen again in 2011.

From 'Stealing Home' to This Year's Unhappy Flight

The night the despondent Cardinals returned from their 6-4 Game 5 loss in Milwaukee, I drove to Lambert Airport and waited with the crowd who wanted to cheer on the team. Boom boxes played that year's theme, "Celebrate," and hundreds of fans wearing jerseys or Redbird T-shirts waited past midnight to greet the players.

But manager Whitey Herzog, in no mood to greet fans after losing two of three games in Milwaukee, diverted the team's entrance to avoid the airport crowd. "You might say the Cardinals stole home last night," I wrote in my Post-Dispatch article the next morning.

Herzog spent the off day planning the next phase of Whitey Ball. There were no Rally Squirrels that year, but the 1982 Cardinals were a team built to win, just as this year's Redbirds have assembled the right pieces. Back then, Willie McGee, Ozzie Smith, Keith Hernandez, George Hendrick, Joaquin Andujar and Bruce Sutter were the stars.

Rain kept delaying Game 6, but nothing could dampen the fans when the team finally came out of its two-straight-loss tailspin and scored 13 times -- with each run turning up the volume of the delighted crowd. Hernandez and catcher Darrell Porter each had a two-run homer and rookie pitcher John Stuper -- that year's Jaime Garcia? -- went the distance. Milwaukee, whose sluggers included future Hall of Famers Robin Yount and Paul Molitor, managed to score only one run.

(That was the World Series in which Molitor set the record of 5 hits in a single game -- a record that stood for 29 years before it was matched by Albert Pujols in the third game of this year's Fall Classic.)

On the night of Game 7 in 1982, the crowd of 53,723 got nervous when the Cardinals fell behind, 3-1, in the top of the 6th inning. But with one out in the bottom of that inning, Ozzie Smith singled, Lonnie Smith doubled him to third and Hernandez tied the game with a two-run single. Another hit by Hendrick broke the tie, and the Cardinals tacked on two more runs in the bottom of the eighth.

When Sutter -- the bearded future Hall of Famer -- fired a split-fingered fastball for the final out, the fireworks went off and the crowd went crazy. Fans in the bleachers -- including me -- spilled over onto the field. Those of us who made that dozen-foot drop started running towards the pitcher's mound.

Mounted police soon corralled us, but plenty of fans tore up pieces of the AstroTurf or filled their pockets with infield dirt for souvenirs, and we managed to hop into the box seats and escape the police while the jubilant Cards celebrated on the field and headed for the champagne in the clubhouse.

That night, downtown St. Louis -- as well as taverns across the region -- lit up with revelers. They partied long into the night and into the next morning. It was like New Year's Eve, Christmas and the Fourth of July thrown into one, celebrating a Series title that had eluded the Redbirds since 1967.

Cardinal Nation Extends Worldwide

Those souvenir pieces of AstroTurf and pockets full of infield dirt from the '82 Series are scattered across the country now. And the fans who still treasure them -- what some call Cardinal Nation -- are scattered all over the world.

When @SirGloveAWilson -- a Twitter account purporting to be the glove of closer Jason Motte -- called for Cardinal Nation to show it support for the trailing team on Tuesday morning, there were response Tweets from across the country -- and even from Spain, Scotland and Russia.

And while prospects for a repeat might seem gloomy today, the miracle of 1982 could well happen again in 2011. And Cardinal Nation will be watching -- that coast-to-coast, international cadre of Redbird lovers who catch games when they can and wear Musial and Pujols jerseys in enemy baseball cities.

Take my own family as a microcosm. We lived in Dogtown during the 1982 World Series, but we have scattered around the country over the last three decades. Even so, every one of us remains part of Cardinal Nation

Our eldest daughter, Laura, counts that '82 Series, as well as the '85 and '87 Series that followed, among her early memories. Today, she's probably the most rabid Cardinal fan in Boston, living not far from Fenway Park, and watching every World Series game.

Our son Mark has my press pass for the '82 Series in his baby scrapbook. He's a major Redbird fan in his twin domiciles of San Francisco and Geneva, Switzerland. While traveling in Asia this month, he watched Cardinal playoff and Series games in Cambodia, Thailand, Nepal and China.

Our younger son, Chris, lives in Philadelphia, and was brave enough to wear an Adam Wainwright jersey the day after the Redbirds eliminated the Phillies in the National League championship game. And our daughter Claire sports Cardinal T-shirts at a Washington, D.C.-area high school where the Nationals and the Orioles are the favorites.

So take heart, Cardinal fans. The Spirit of '82 lives on - not only in St. Louis, but across the country and across the globe. History can repeat itself; the 2011 World Series can be won at Busch Stadium. And, even if those victory fireworks don't go off this year, there's always 2012.

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