Friday, October 17, 2014

October 17, 2005 - The Albert Pujols Game

Monday, October 17, 2005 - NLCS Game 5 vs Houston Astros at Minute Maid Park - Attendance:  43,470 - Starting Pitchers:  Chris Carpenter vs Andy Pettitte

The Cardinals certainly have had their share of postseason success, with eleven World Series championships as proof.  Number twelve will have to wait at least one more year, however, after Thursday's disappointing elimination game loss to the Giants - in Game 5 of the National League Championship Series.

Obviously, the Cardinals were already in a three games to one hole to begin with, so harping on that loss serves no purpose.  For the record, the franchise has now lost all five postseason best-of-seven series when trailing three games to one.  Here they are:

1943 World Series vs New York Yankees
2000 NLCS vs (Wild Card) New York Mets
2002 NLCS vs (Wild Card) San Francisco Giants
2005 NLCS vs (Wild Card) Houston Astros
2014 NLCS vs (Wild Card) Giants again.

Yes, those Wild Card teams are deadly in the NLCS.  Maybe don't play them anymore, unless it's in the NLDS, which means they'd have to have the best record in the National League.  However, having the best record in NL hasn't resulted in a World Series championship for a NL team since the Clinton administration (pre-Lewinsky):  1995 - when the Atlanta Braves did it.  Go figure.

Although the Cards have never come back from a three games to one deficit to win a series, they have won four out of the six times they trailed by a three games to two deficit (most recently, in the 2011 World Series).  Go figure again.

In all but one series when the Cardinals were trailing three games to one, they went on to lose Game 5.  There was only one instance when the Redbirds were able win Game 5 - and that happened exactly nine years ago - in the 2005 National League Championship Series vs the Houston Astros - aka The Albert Pujols-Brad Lidge Game.

With the Cardinals on the brink of elimination, their desperate mission to win this game and send the series back to St Louis, got off to a frustrating start.  The very first batter in the game - David Eckstein - was hit by a pitch from Houston starter Andy Pettitte - then promptly stole second while Jim Edmonds was in the process of drawing a base on balls.

Two on, nobody out - however, Pettitte escaped the jam by getting Pujols on a pop fly to third, Reggie Sanders on a fly ball to left and Larry Walker on a ball that barely made it into fair territory, which catcher Brad Ausmus grabbed and fired to first to retire the side.

Chris Carpenter ran into some trouble of his own in the bottom of the second.  Leading-off, Jason Lane singled - then Ausmus hit a bullet that deflected off Eckstein's glove at short, which went for a double.  With runners on second and third, Carpenter struck out Adam Everett, then induced Pettitte to hit a grounder to Pujols at first, who fired to Molina to nail Lane at home.

But Craig Biggio got the two-out RBI with a line drive single to left.  Houston was on the board first, with a 1-0 lead.

The Cardinals answered back in the third inning, when Eckstein singled to center - stole second - then advanced to third on Edmonds' single to right.  This time, a frustrated Pujols struck out, as did Sanders.  Pettitte then pitched carefully to the dangerous Larry Walker - eventually walking him to load the bases.  The next batter - Mark Grudzielanek - came through with a bases loaded single to right - scoring both Eckstein and Walker - to put the Redbirds on top, 2-1.

St Louis failed to capitalize on scoring opportunities in the sixth and seventh-innings, while Pujols' personal frustration continued - grounding out in the seventh - stranding yet another runner on the bases - his fifth of the game - and three of 'em were in scoring position.

Houston seemingly delivered the knockout blow to the Cardinals' postseason run with Lance Berkman's three-run seventh-inning home run - in Carpenter's final inning of work (7 IP - 9 H - 4 R - 3 ER - 1 BB - 6 SO - 1 HR).

With Astros closer Brad Lidge on the mound trying to protect a 4-2 ninth-inning lead, the chances for a Cardinal comeback seemed as remote as remote could be - especially when Lidge struck out both John Rodriguez and John Mabry to start the inning.

Down to their last out, lead-off hitter Eckstein once again reached base - with a single to left - and with Edmonds batting, Eckstein took advantage of Houston's defensive indifference by taking second.  In the meantime, Edmonds - determined not to make the final out of the season - drew another base on balls.

This brought you-know-who to the plate with two more runners on base.  Pujols was 0 for 4 when he stepped into the batter's box to face the hard-throwing Lidge.  After taking the first pitch for a strike - mentally gauging his opponent's fastball - Pujols was ready to do some damage on the second offering - a belt-high fastball, middle-in.

With one vicious, yet compact and efficient swing, Pujols had suddenly propelled the Cardinals to a 5-4 lead - on a blast so prodigious, an awe-struck Andy Pettitte, perched in the Astros dugout at the time of the launch, offered an on-camera "Wow!" for the millions of television viewers to enjoy.  Meanwhile, the ball finally landed on that silly little train track way, way out there in left field.

Ironically, Lidge struck out the next batter - Sanders - to retire the side - all on strikes.  But the damage had been done.

Jason Isringhausen picked up the win with his second perfect inning of relief work.

For optimistic Cardinal fans looking forward to Game 6 back home at Busch Stadium II on Wednesday - this thrilling victory kept the postseason dream alive - at least for one more game at the old ballpark.

But it was fun while it lasted.

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