- Associated Press - Monday, October 17, 2011

Albert Pujols and Josh Hamilton in a matchup of MVP sluggers. Nelson Cruz and David Freese becoming bigger names with each home run swing. Pitching staffs full of shaky starters and shutdown relievers.

The Texas Rangers and St. Louis Cardinals with a lot of symmetry, all set to get acquainted in the World Series.

Leave it to ol’ Arthur Rhodes to make the introductions. The 41-year-old lefty specialist began the year with Texas, wound up in St. Louis and is likely to get a ring either way.

Besides, it takes someone who’s been around a bit to remember the last time these teams played.

It was 2004, in a three-game set in Texas. Even in this era of interleague play, that’s the only time the Cardinals and Rangers have met when it meant something. According to STATS LLC, that matches the fewest games between a pair of opponents in the majors, tying Mets-White Sox.

Game 1 is Wednesday night in St. Louis, with aces Chris Carpenter of the Cardinals and C.J. Wilson set to start. The opening odds see Texas as a small favorite.

“The Rangers are scary. They’re a scary team,” said Freese, the NLCS MVP. “You look at that lineup, you look at that staff. It’s going to be a battle.”

Consider this an old-school World Series. Top names on both sides, many of them facing each other for the first time, the way it was before AL and NL clubs played all through the summer.

Hamilton, Cruz, Michael Young and the Rangers made their first appearance last year, only to be shut down by San Francisco’s pitching in a five-game wipeout.

“We weren’t very happy with the results, and we certainly knew that we were a better team than we showed,” manager Ron Washington said.

St. Louis has won 10 Series titles, second most to the New York Yankees’ 27. Manager Tony La Russa, Pujols and the Cardinals last took it in 2006, helped by Series MVP David Eckstein.

This year, hardly anyone expected St. Louis to make it this far, especially when it was 10 1/2 games out of a playoff spot Aug. 25. A sensational run in the last month, plus a tremendous collapse by Atlanta, gave the Cardinals the NL wild card slot on the final day of the regular season.

The Cardinals did what many fans considered almost impossible in the first round - they eliminated the heavily favored Phillies.

Carpenter outdueled Roy Halladay 1-0 in the decisive Game 5, then St. Louis relied on its bullpen every day to beat Milwaukee in the NL championship series.

Jason Motte, Fernando Salas, Octavio Dotel, Marc Rzepczynski and the Cards’ crew shut down Prince Fielder and the Brewers, capped by a 12-6 win in Game 6 Sunday night.

Texas began the playoffs by beating Tampa Bay in four games and mashed Detroit in the six-game ALCS. Cruz was an MVP monster against the Tigers, hitting an LCS-record six home runs with 13 RBI.

Closer Neftali Feliz, Alexi Ogando, Scott Feldman and two of GM Jon Daniels’ additions - Mike Adams and Michael Gonzalez - keyed a bullpen that dominated the postseason.

Now it’s on to Busch Stadium for the opener.

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