BOSTON -- They left the ancient ballpark Wednesday night, wondering what the future held.
Their resident Mr. October was off at the hospital, staring down a CT scan machine. The big "E" light was still flashing nonstop on the imaginary scoreboard in all their brains after a brutal October evening.
But what happened Thursday, in Game 2 of the 2013 World Series, sums up the St. Louis Cardinals.
They don't always hit. They don't always score. They don't always catch the balls you think they'll catch.
They just win.
They just keep finding ways to keep their dream and their season alive.
And Thursday night at Fenway Park, they found a way once more.
With a shocking 4-2 win over the Boston Red Sox that pulled them even, at a win apiece, in what just became a much more interesting World Series. ... With a stunning, three-run seventh inning full of echoes of Octobers past. ... With the final run scoring on the first World Series RBI in the remarkable career of the man who climbed out of that CT scan tube, Carlos Beltran.
Holy moly. Who the heck writes these scripts?
"Sometimes," their general manager, John Mozeliak, said as the clock ticked toward midnight in Fenway's tiny visitors clubhouse, "you don't win as pretty as other times. But tonight just exemplified how this postseason has gone for us."
Hey, good point.
His fearsome lineup, which led the National League in runs scored, is hitting .212 in this postseason.
Throw out Game 1 of the Pirates series and Game 6 of the Dodgers series, and the mighty Cardinals are averaging 2.6 runs a game this October (with just 29 runs in their other 11 games).
They've been outslugged, outhomered and, if you throw out those two games, handily outscored (38-29) by their postseason opponents.
But are any of those messy numbers really relevant right now? Not in October. Not if you're playing in a World Series, and you're tied 1-1, and you're about to head home -- where you've lost once in five weeks -- for the next three games.
This ain't no art museum this time of year, ladies and gentlemen. The only thing that's important in October is: win tonight. And this team never forgets that.
"It doesn't matter, as long as you win," injured reliever Jason Motte said. "It doesn't matter if it's 1-0 or 4-2 or 20-1. It doesn't matter. The only thing that matters is, you've just got to do what you need to do."
And that's all this group does -- beginning with the miracle of Carlos Beltran.
Had this been May or June or August, you wouldn't have found him anywhere near the baseball field on this night, 24 hours after he'd slammed into a bullpen fence and left a Picasso portrait in black and blue on his rib cage.
That is what goes on with this team at all times, from April to October. That's the reason you get to the postseason in the first place -- because you fight.
"-- Cardinals third baseman David Freese
But this was the World Series. And not just any World Series. It was a World Series that Carlos Beltran had waited 16 years and 2,064 games to play in. So out there he went, to do what he needed to do.
"When I left the ballpark yesterday," Beltran admitted afterward, "I had very little hope that I was going to be in the lineup with the way I felt."
But when he awoke Thursday morning, while his bruised right rib cage was still throbbing, he wasn't in as much discomfort as he expected. So he headed for the ballpark, worked with the medical staff all afternoon to get himself ready to suck it up and play, took a painkiller injection before batting practice and then ...
He went out and got two hits -- one from each side of the plate. And drove in a humongous insurance run. And, somehow or other, looked exactly how he looks every year when October rolls around -- like Superman.
You're kidding, right? How was that possible?
"Hey, his name is Carlos Beltran," quipped his hitting coach, John Mabry. "He's watching video of you watching video. Haven't you seen the commercial?"
Hey, of course you have. But it still was pretty amazing, even for men who have been watching Beltran's October heroics, up close and personal, all month.
"That was awesome, man," Motte said. "But you know Carlos. He'd have to have something really wrong with him not to go out there in these kinds of games."
But wait, someone said. He did have something really wrong with him.
"We're talking bones sticking out," Motte laughed.
Luckily, though, all of Beltran's rib bones stayed inside his chest. So Carlos Beltran played baseball. But later, he confessed, even he was kind of astounded by what had just gone down.
"Yesterday, I left the ballpark wondering what was going to happen," Beltran said, "because the pain that I was feeling was so bad that I couldn't be back in the game. So thank God the news that I received was encouraging. ... All I had was a big bruise on my chest."
He'll feel sore on Friday. He knows that. And probably for a lot more days beyond that. But luckily, there's nothing like a game-winning three-run rally in the late innings of a World Series game to make the pain go away. Beats a shot of Toradol any day. Even the surgeon general would probably admit that.
The funny thing was, though, for a while there, this looked as though it was going to be another fabled Mr. October's night.
That man was David Ortiz. And for his latest October trick, he busted up another magical evening in the ongoing saga of Michael Wacha, the 22-year-old ace who dropped out of the St. Louis sky, with a two-run sixth-inning homer into the Monster seats in left-center.
It was an earth-rattling blast that transformed a 1-0 Cardinals lead into a 2-1 Red Sox lead. It was the seventh go-ahead October home run in Big Papi's storied career -- a total topped only by Albert Pujols (nine), Babe Ruth (eight) and Bernie Williams (eight). And it was such an epic postseason moment, it left even the Cardinals in awe.
"When he hit it," third baseman David Freese said afterward, "I was like, 'Man, that guy's a stud.'"
It felt, for a moment there, like a Series-turning death blow for the team on the other side of the field. But not, it turned out, to the men who play for that team.
"It was incredible to see that, but I knew what it would be like in our dugout when we got back in there," Freese said. "We had guys in there, saying, 'Let's go. We've got a lot of game left. Keep fighting.'
"And that," Freese went on, "is what goes on with this team at all times, from April to October. That's the reason you get to the postseason in the first place -- because you fight."
So even though they were nine outs away going down, two games to none, and even though they had the bottom of the order lined up to hit against John Lackey, who had shut them down on four hits for six innings, what was about to happen was The Story of the 2013 Cardinals. And of the 2011 and 2012 Cardinals, for that matter.
Two Octobers ago, they were one strike from losing the World Series in two different innings -- and wound up winning it. ... Last October, they were three outs from getting sent home by the Nationals -- and scored four times in the ninth to live to play another series. ... And then came this -- "a mini-version" of that inning in Washington, Mabry said, with "some of the same key players involved in it."
There was Freese, putting aside a disappointing October (8-for-43, .186) by working a tough one-out walk.
There was Jon Jay, riding a 7-for-38 postseason funk himself, ending Lackey's evening with a single to right.
There was Daniel Descalso spitting on a bunch of very close pitches, fouling off two others and grinding a walk that loaded the bases.
It was vintage Cardinals -- "just being down, late in a ballgame, and not having the momentum, but still taking every at-bat extremely seriously," Freese said. "We do that all year. But I think in these games, we understand what's going on when you're playing baseball deep in October."
The throw home skipping past catcher Jarrod Saltalamacchia, for one error. ... Breslow backing up the plate, but then sailing his throw to third halfway to Foxborough, for a second error.
Stunningly, just that fast, the scoreboard said: St. Louis 3, Boston 2.
Then Beltran would slap an RBI single into right field to make it 4-2. And the Cardinals would haul their two young fire-breathing relievers, Carlos Martinez and Trevor Rosenthal, in to blow through the final three innings, punching out six Red Sox along the way. And, incredibly, the St. Louis Cardinals had survived. Again.
"You know, baseball's a funny game," Descalso said. "We played poorly last night. And we made the mistakes. But we came out tonight and played a lot better. And they were the ones that made the mistakes."
We don't know exactly what this means -- yet. We don't know where this World Series is leading or where the latest twist in the plot will take us. We just know that, as the seventh inning arrived at Fenway Park on Thursday night, it looked as though the Red Sox might stampede their way right to the parade floats.
Until the Cardinals did what they always seem to do this time of year.
"And now," Descalso said, "it's a whole new Series."