Frenzied fans test aging stadium

Friday, October 22, 2004

ST. LOUIS -- More than 52,000 red-clad fans shook Busch Stadium to its concrete core Thursday.

Then the red sea then parted and partied, turning downtown St. Louis into a horn-blaring celebration as the Cardinals earned their first World Series berth since 1987 with a 5-2 victory over Roger Clemens and the Houston Astros.

With each Astros' out after the Cardinals took a 4-2 lead on Scott Rolen's two-run homer in the sixth inning, the roars got louder from the sell-out crowd of 52,140.

Few people sat down from the seventh inning on. Fans whipped their white rally towels above their heads. "Let's go, Cardinals" the crowd chanted, as the anticipation built.

Hands stung from the high fives and fists pumped in the air, and no one seemed to mind the showers of confetti and beer when the final out came. "Mission Control -- the Redbird has Landed" read one unfurled banner.

The throng bounced up and down so much, the stadium's concrete floors quaked.

The raucousness inside the stadium tested the resilience of the 38-year-old ballpark, which faces demolition in about a year as it makes way for the new stadium -- already named Busch Stadium -- beginning with the 2006 season.

The win capped a roller-coaster ride through the NL Championship Series, in which St. Louis won the first two, loss the next three, then won the final two. Each of the seven games was won by the home team.

For years, Cardinals' crowds have resembled that of a monstrous high school football game, with virtually everyone wearing the home-team colors. After playoff appearances in 1996, 2000, 2001 and 2002 fell short, fans were thrilled to get back to the World Series.

The opponent is a familiar one. The Cardinals will open the World Series Saturday in Boston. They've played the Red Sox twice before and won both times, in 1946 and 1967.

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