Tuesday, July 8, 2014

July 8, 2006 - Improbable Extra-Inning Winner in Houston

Saturday, July 8, 2006 - At Minute Maid Park (Anthony Reyes - Starting Pitcher) -Opponent:  Houston Astros (Roger Clemens - Starting Pitcher) - Attendance:  43,424

In 2006, the Cardinals managed to sneak into the postseason by the slimmest of margins - just a game and a half ahead of the second-place Houston Astros.  Thanks to an improbable two-out two-run ninth-inning rally to tie this game, the Cardinals were able to win it on an almost predictable tenth-inning Albert Pujols home run.  He used to do this sort of thing on a regular basis - especially in 2006.

The Cardinals actually scored first in this game - with two first-inning unearned runs off Roger Clemens.  With one out, John Rodriguez started the rally with a single to center field, which was followed by an Albert Pujols single to left field.  With the runners on first and second, Scott Rolen's ground ball to first baseman Mike Lamb was booted - allowing Rodriguez to score, while Pujols pulled up at third.  Jim Edmonds then hit a ground ball to second baseman Craig Biggio, whose only play was to force Rolen at second, as Pujols scored the second unearned run of the game for the Redbirds.

Looking back on that first-inning error by Lamb - had he fielded it cleanly, the Cardinals would not have scored at all.  If that's the case, they would have lost this game, which more than likely would have cost St Louis a chance for postseason play - or at the very least - made it extremely difficult to win the division title.  Of course, errors are a part of the game; but this one in particular really helped facilitate the Cardinals' quest for postseason play.

Meanwhile, the Astros got one of those runs back on Cardinal-killer Lance Berkman's RBI single in the bottom of the first.

The Cardinals made some more noise in the fourth-inning - as Rolen led-off with a single to right field, and came all the way around to score on Edmonds' double to center field.  After Juan Encarnacion was retired on a fly ball to right field, Hector Luna walked - then backup catcher Gary Bennett scored Edmonds with a single to right field - to give the Cardinals a brief 4-1 lead.

In the bottom of the fifth-inning, Craig Biggio's three-run home run tied the game - as the momentum definitely shifted in favor of the home team.  Reyes' night was over after finally retiring the side with no further damage.

The next pitcher - Josh Kinney - pitched a scoreless sixth-inning, but after a lead-off walk to Orlando Palmeiro in the seventh and a hit batsman - Biggio - Randy Flores was summoned from the Cardinal bullpen to face Mike Lamb - who promptly loaded the bases with a single to left field.

Rookie Adam Wainwright was then brought into the game, and he got his first man - Morgan Ensberg - on a pop fly to the second baseman.  But then, Lance Berkman drove in two runs with a single to center field.  Wainwright kept the damage at two runs by inducing Preston Wilson to ground into a Rolen-to-Miles-to-Pujols inning-ending double play.

The Cardinals still trailed, 6-4 heading into the ninth-inning, with Houston closer Brad Lidge trying to do his job, and close out the game.  After getting the first two batters - Edmonds on strikes and Juan Encarnacion on a fly ball to left field - this one appeared to be all but over.

Then suddenly, Scott Spiezio launched one out to right - making it a 6-5 game now.  Still, with two out and nobody on base, the chances for the Redbirds to extend this game seemed remote.  However, pinch hitter Chris Duncan kept the inning alive with a base hit to center.  David Eckstein followed that by drawing a base on balls.  Finally, Aaron Miles became the fourth straight St Louis batter to reach base - by lining a run-scoring single to right field, to tie the game, 6-6. Unbelievable.

Roy Oswald was the new Houston pitcher as the Cardinals hit in the tenth-inning, with all the momentum in the world working for them.  It also didn't hurt to have Albert Pujols leading-off with a home run, to give the Redbirds a shocking 7-6 win - after Jason Isringhausen pitched a second perfect inning of relief to nail it down.

At the time, the significance of this long-shot extra-inning win at Minute Maid Park could not be fully appreciated.  With it, the Cardinals finished the season with a record of 83-78, while the Astros finished at 82-80.  Without it, the Cardinals would have ended up at 82-79 - while the Astros would have been 83-79.  The division title would have gone to Houston since they won the season series - in reality, Houston won 9 of 16, but in this altered reality, it would have been 10 of 16.

Instead, Spezio, Duncan, Eckstein and Miles were unsung heroes for the Cardinals - along with Mike Lamb and his not-so Golden first-inning Glove.

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