ST. LOUIS — The stands were a sea of red, and boiling over. “Tonight! Tonight!” they chanted. Everybody in this city was repeating those words. The cabdrivers. The brewery workers. The guy in the bird suit jumping around outside the stadium.

“Gonna be tonight, Cardinals. . . . Bring it home tonight, Cardinals. . . It all ends tonight, Cardinals. . . . “

Tonight, tonight. Won’t be just any night. It was ringing around Busch Stadium Thursday evening like a Broadway overture, a mating call for all the hearty celebrants in this sudsy town. Hoist the kegs. Chill the mugs. This will be the Cardinals’ shining hour, their World Series clincher. Game 5. Here we go. The streets were red. The people were red. The beer was red.

But the winning team was blue.

Hold everything. The Kansas City Royals can hit, sort of. They can score more than two runs in a “big” inning, sort of. They are back from the grave again, sort of.

They won Game 5, 6-1, and ruined just about everybody’s night here in the process.

Shut ’em up. Shut ’em down.

Closed their Series gap to 3-2.

And all the people who paid $200 for scalped tickets went home to cry, and all the people who dyed their hair crimson went home for a long shower. Few cities have so decorated the ballroom of victory only to see no one show up for the dance.

Now, if the Cardinals are to be crowned champions of this unforgiving baseball season — and, with apologies to both clubs, aren’t you just a little baseballed-out by this point? — it will be in the western part of this state, where blood runs blue, not red, and the crown suit replaces the redbird suit as the costume most likely to jump out in front of your car and give you a heart attack. Kansas City, here we come Of course, the minions of red had every right to expect this thing would end here in Budweiserville, U.S.A. The way the Royals had played — make that: the way they batted — they were about as awe-inspiring as Don Knotts in Hulk Hogan’s shorts.

Take away Game 3 — their first 6-1 win — and they had scored three runs in three games.

But this night they treated the ball as if it were made to be hit, not eaten with chopsticks. Even Steve Balboni got on base.

And so we’re goin’ to Kansas City. Again.

Two moments stand out from this game:

One came in the second inning, when Willie Wilson stroked a two-out triple to right-center that sent two Royals scampering home and provided a commodity sorely lacking in the Royals’ bag of tricks — a clutch hit.

The other came in the bottom of the third inning, with KC’s Danny Jackson on the mound staring down the barrel of one Tito Landrum, a.k.a. Mister Big Hit.

Here might have been the season, dangling on the ledge. Bases loaded with Cardinals. Two outs. Landrum, the best hitter in this World Series so far, cocking his bat at the plate. The Cardinals’ fans were delirious, shaking themselves red like a taunting matador. Jackson fired one strike. Then a ball. Landrum fouled off the next two pitches, count 1-2. Pitcher and batter buckled down. Jackson, a quiet 23-year-old with a face straight out of a high school yearbook, threw an inside slider, Landrum swung, and the ball rose innocently over foul territory and dropped into the glove of third baseman George Brett.

Three outs. Rally over.

Call the travel agents.

Royals hanging by their arms If nothing else, you must admire the Royals’ guts. They don’t stare death in the face. They spit at it. They wave their little Royals pennants and say it ain’t over till it’s over and then make sure of it.

“We rely on our pitching,” Kansas City manager Dick Howser had said before the game. “If we can get good performances from them, we’re never out of this thing.”

Jackson gave them that, surrendering only five hits and delivering his second fifth-game masterpiece of the post-season — the first coming against Toronto in the American League playoffs, keeping the Royals alive.

As for the Cardinals, manager Whitey Herzog may forever second-guess his decision to start Bob Forsch instead of the hurting Danny Cox Thursday. He admitted it was an “instinct” call. Forsch lasted all of 1 2/3 innings, and gave up all the runs the Royals would need to win.

So there it is. The sell-out crowd filed out of the stadium with all the decorum of a librarians’ convention. Baseball was over in St. Louis for this year. The mugs were filled in the after-hours spots, but they were watered down with an occasional teardrop, and nursed over plans of going to the airport sometime in the next few days, to welcome the Cardinals home.

They hope.

Tonight, tonight, was history.

Tomorrow is only a maybe.

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