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La Russa couldn't hold back the tears

ST. LOUIS -- The Arizona Diamondbacks had been sent home for the winter. And inside the St. Louis clubhouse, the champagne was combustible and cold and ready to be dispensed by the giddy, whooping Cardinals.

Manager Tony La Russa was not ready to join the party. He lingered in his office for a few quiet moments of reflection, away from the spray of beer and the full-throated cheers of a triumphant team. But La Russa's emotions, like the champagne, bubbled up. And he couldn't contain his feelings.

Drew Baur, one of the owners, approached La Russa and commented about the remarkable nature of the 2002 Cardinals, who overcame so much personal pain and so many unfair tests to reach the first stage of October's Promised Land.

"This team is real special," La Russa told Baur. "Real, real, special."

The instantaneous review of the long journey from April to October found La Russa's soft spot. His hands went to his face, and the hardshell manager got wobbly. Baur moved in to throw a bearhug around La Russa. After the embrace, La Russa turned away, facing the corner. His fingers were still at his eyes, playing defense, still trying to stop the teardrops from rolling down his cheeks. And this would be La Russa's only failure of this wondrous Saturday night.

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Fans have warmed up to La Russa, who received one of the loudest ovations during pregame introductions. It took a long time for the sea of red to colorize La Russa, but the unusually cruel demands of a punishing 20002 season put La Russa's managing under a special, glowing light.

Jack Buck died, Darry Kile died, La Russa's own father died. La Russa and trusted pitching coach Dave Duncan kept applying patches to a staff that used 26 pitchers, including 14 starters. The day before the NLDS began, the Cardinals lost their hopeful Game 3 starter, Woody Williams. In Game 2, they lost Rolen. But through each new storm, La Russa kept himself centered and his players moving forward.

"This has got to be one of the greatest managing jobs in baseball history," Baur said.

La Russa didn't want to hear that. His mind was already advancing to the next round. "We have to play as well in the NLCS as we did in this series," he said.

La Russa moved to the door, to inspect the party. He saw the players skipping through the room, squirting the champagne. He saw their smiles and their hugs in this scene of pure happiness. And this is why La Russa has given his life to this game.

"This is the best part for me, just watching them enjoy the reward of all the effort they put into everything," La Russa said.

Bernie Miklasz is a columnist for the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.

CARDINALS 6, DIAMONDBACKS 3

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ARIZONA ST.; LOUIS

ab r h bi ab r h bi

; Wmack ss 4 0 0 0 Vina; 2b 4 1 2 1

; Spivey 2b 3 0 0 0 JDrew; rf 5 0 1 0

; SFinley cf 3 0 1 0 Edmnd; cf 3 0 0 0

; MWlms 3b 4 0 0 0 Pujols; lf 2 1 1 1

; Durazo 1b 4 0 0 0 TMrtnz; 1b 3 1 0 0

; McCkn rf 3 1 1 0 Rnteria; ss 4 0 0 0

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; Dllucci lf 4 1 1 2 Cairo; 3b 3 2 3 2

; Brajas c 3 1 1 1 Mtheny; c 3 1 1 0

; MBtsta p 1 0 0 0 AnBnes; p 1 0 0 1

; Swndell p 0 0 0 0 Fssero; p 0 0 0 0

; Dnnels ph 0 0 0 0 RiWhte; p 0 0 0 0

; Helling p 0 0 0 0 EPerez; ph 1 0 0 0

; Moeller ph 1 0 0 0 Kline; p 0 0 0 0

; MMyrs p 0 0 0 0 Rbnson; ph 1 0 1 1

; BKim p 0 0 0 0 Isrnghs; p 0 0 0 0

; Totals 30 3 4 3 Totals 30 6 9 6

; Arizona 020 010 000 -- 3

; St. Louis 011 200 02x -- 6

; DP--Arizona 1. LOB--Arizona 4, St. Louis 8. 2B--Cairo (1). HR--Dellucci (1), Barajas (1). CS--Vina (1). S--AnBenes.

IP H R ER BB SO

; Arizona

MBatista L,0-1 3; 2-3 5 4 4 3 1

; Swindell 1-3 0 0 0 0 0

; Helling 2 1 0 0 0 2

; MMyers 1 1 0 0 0 1

; BKim 1 2 2 2 3 0

; St. Louis

AnBenes 4; 2-3 2 3 3 4 5

; Fassero W,2-0 1; 1-3 2 0 0 0 2

; RiWhite 1 0 0 0 0 1

; Kline 1 0 0 0 0 0

; Isringhausen S,2 1 0 0 0 0 0

; HBP--by MBatista (Cairo). Balk--AnBenes.

Umpires--Home, Angel Hernandez; First, Jerry Layne; Second, Tim Tschida; Third, Ted Barrett; Left, Mike Reilly; Right, Paul Emmel.

T--3:14. A--52,189 (49,814).

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