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Cardinals fans contemplate life without Albert Pujols

Could it be thCardinals slugger Albert Pujols says goodbye St. Louis after this season? | AP

Could it be that Cardinals slugger Albert Pujols says goodbye to St. Louis after this season? | AP

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Updated: October 6, 2011 12:56PM

ST. LOUIS — He stood on a street corner three hours before the game, hawking baseball tickets, a large man in a No. 5 Albert Pujols jersey.

“They call me Big Ed around here,” he said.

Good, let’s start with Big Ed, and the question of Wednesday night, as the St. Louis Cardinals tried to stay alive against Philadelphia.

This was Pujols’ 1,765th game as a Cardinal. Would it be his last, at home anyway?

“I think Albert Pujols should stay home,” he said. “As far as I see, he don’t seem to be unhappy, and happiness is where home is.”

The Cardinals without Pujols. Describe that nightmare scenario as a ticket broker.

“It would probably be disastrous,” Big Ed said. “But life goes on.”

Doesn’t it, though? Such is a subplot of this dead-even National League series. Pujols’ final St. Louis bow. Maybe. His brilliance will go on, and like college tuition, its cost is headed in one direction.

He will finish his 11th season a free agent, on course for Cooperstown. He is 31, a little nicked up. But he is still one of the premier players of his time. The new contract will have to be a whopper. From somebody.

The numbers bandied about in the spring were $300 million for 10 years. And to think, four blocks from Busch Stadium is an Occupy St. Louis protest campsite, decrying the tanking economy.

But business can come later, when the Cardinals are finished, which they aren’t yet, after winning Wednesday 5-3.

Maybe he stays, maybe he goes. Right now, he is just trying to dump the Phillies. He had no hits Wednesday but still helped swing the night with defense. Rather than stay on the bag to take a throw and retire Hunter Pence in the sixth -- as 99 of 100 first basemen would have done -- he jumped off early and gunned down Chase Utley trying to sneak to third.

Pure instinct -- and the nerve of a superstar.

“I was in the dugout watching and I didn’t even think of that play,” St. Louis’ Skip Schumaker said. “That’s why he is who he is.”

Wednesday night was for checking in with those who came wearing No. 5 jerseys.

Bob and Julie James.

Bob: “He plays in the greatest baseball city. He plays for ... one of the best managers (Tony La Russa). I don’t think he’ll leave.”

What should the Cardinals give?

Julie: “Whatever he wants.”

Bob: “Baseball wouldn’t be baseball in St. Louis without him. It’d be weird. Everyone would agree with that. Even Cubs fans. Unless they get him.”

Al Tobey and his son Tripp.

Al: “Ten years, that’s too much. This is not a large market.”

Tripp: “He’s been a great player for the Cardinals, but he shouldn’t ask for so much money.”

Chip and Lauren Rayfield. Matching Pujols jerseys.

Lauren: “A St. Louis icon. He’s not going anywhere.”

And if he does?

Chip: “I just hope he doesn’t go to the Cubs or Yankees. If he goes to the Cubs or Yankees, we’re all going to be pissed.”

Dave Tucker and Chris Passiglia.

Dave: “He’s going to follow the money. I’m done with them making more money than anyone else. The economy stinks. I’d go out and play for half price.”

Chris: “You ain’t as athletic, though.”

Steve Fuchs and Mike Pisarkiewicz.

Mike: “He’s so involved in the community. He’s a better guy off the field.”

Steve: “We would go on. That’s the way the Cardinals always have been.”

And if he ends up with, say, the Cubs?

Steve: “We don’t even want to talk about that.”

According to Elias Sports Bureau, 15 current major leaguers have played at least 11 years and remain with their original club. Quite the marquee: Derek Jeter, Mariano Rivera and Jorge Posada of the Yankees, Ichiro in Seattle, Chipper Jones in Atlanta. But who is more the face of his franchise than Pujols?

We return to Big Ed, who thinks the Cardinals should pay up.

“Just because of the fact he wouldn’t look as great anywhere else.”

The No. 5 army roared for Pujols every at-bat Wednesday night. Roared for the Cardinals’ survival. Now is for baseball. Whatever happens later, happens.

Just so long as he doesn’t come back a Cub.

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