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4/4/2013 1:32 P.M. ET

San Francisco trip brings harsh memories to Cards

St. Louis returning to AT&T Park for first time since losing NLCS, will see ring ceremony

PHOENIX -- The Cardinals' last visit to AT&T Park infamously ended in the pouring rain, with Marco Scutaro gloving a popup from Matt Holliday to end Game 7 of the National League Championship Series. It set off a San Francisco celebration, one that ended only because the Giants had one more team to take down.

They'd do that, too, sweeping the Tigers en route to capturing the franchise's second World Series title in three seasons. The Cardinals -- well, those who chose to -- watched the ending unfold on TV, remembering how their quest to punch a repeat ticket to the World Series was thwarted by being outscored, 15-1, when the series shifted back to California.

Now, for the first time since losing a 3-1 NLCS lead, the Cardinals are going back.

The stakes are obviously incomparable and the season quite young, but the Cardinals won't be able to escape the memories of last October during their first return visit to a venue that holds mixed memories. With it being the Giants' first home series of 2013, the three-game set is to be dotted with celebration and reflection that the Cardinals would rather not relive.

"It's one of my favorite fields in the league," said manager Mike Matheny, whose playing career ended as a member of the Giants organization. "I enjoy the city. I enjoy going there. But certainly there is some bitter memories of how things ended there, and then it's going to be sort of rubbed in with the on-field ceremonies and all that stuff. As we're moving forward, I hope every guy is standing up on the top step watching all of it, realizing that could have been us. It's a great motivator."

The Cardinals likely won't be able to avoid the pomp and circumstance, which is set to be drawn out over all three games.

The World Series champions flag will be raised before Friday's home opener. On Sunday, World Series rings will be presented to members of the 2012 team. In between, catcher Buster Posey will be presented with the NL Most Valuable Player Award -- an honor for which Yadier Molina was also strongly considered -- on Saturday.

"It's one of those things that should definitely motivate you," center fielder Jon Jay said. "I don't care who you're playing against. When you watch someone get rings and put up a banner, it's something that is impressive. It really hits you and it's something you want to envision your club doing the next year."

As schedule quirkiness would have it, this won't be the first time the Cardinals have watched a San Francisco ring ceremony. They did so just two years ago when the Giants were fresh off their 2010 championship run. A year later, rings were being distributed at Busch Stadium.

The rival Cubs were in town to witness that ceremony and their manager, Dale Sveum, required that they did, saying at the time, "You give anybody respect for winning the World Series."

Matheny said he won't hand down such an edict, though circumstances might make it impossible to miss the show.

"It might light a little fire under us, I'm sure," outfielder Shane Robinson said. "Standing out there, it might get a little old."

Aside from being spectators to the sideshow, the Cardinals seemed mostly unwilling to buy into any idea that the series will carry added significance even given the events of last October.

The Cardinals opened the NLCS with a commanding 3-1 lead and the opportunity to secure a place in the World Series in front of a home crowd in Game 5. But beginning that night in St. Louis, and continuing through the rest of their postseason run, the Giants rode a wave of momentum and did little wrong.

None of the last three games of the NLCS were tight, particularly Game 7, which saw the Giants score seven times in the first three innings.

"It'll be fun to face them early again," Matheny said. "I enjoyed facing them last year. I would have enjoyed it more if we had won one more game. But I saw a team last year that did a lot of little things right, which is something we want to be more like."

These are two teams that could very well clash in the postseason again this fall. Both return rosters that closely mirror those from the 2012 postseason, and ownership of the Commissioner's Trophy has been monopolized by these two organizations for the past three years.

The Cardinals will be reminded this weekend of the pageantry that cloaks such champions. And what would it mean to spoil the hoopla and homecoming? Well, apparently, not all that much.

"Last year is last year," said Friday's starter, Jake Westbrook. "This is a new year, and my first start just happens to be in San Francisco. It's going to be hyped up and there will be a lot of excitement for them with all the festivities and stuff. But it's a new year."

Jenifer Langosch is a reporter for MLB.com. Read her blog, By Gosh, It's Langosch, and follow her on Twitter @LangoschMLB. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.