ST. LOUIS (KMOV.com) — Welcome back to Cards Capsules, the series in which we take a look back at memorable Cardinals games from the last 20 years in St. Louis baseball history. Without any baseball to watch in the present due to the spread of coronavirus, what better way to fill the time, eh?
Previous Cards Capsules:
While 2004 featured arguably the best Cardinals team of this century, that year’s club simply ran into a buzzsaw in the World Series. The Boston Red Sox became the first team ever to come back from a 3-0 deficit in the ALCS and they did it against their bitter rival, the Yankees. There wasn’t a team in the world that was going to take down Boston in ‘04.
The Cardinals were back at it the next October with another quality squad filled with many of the same players from the year prior. Unfortunately, their rivals from the thrilling 2004 NLCS were back again, too, feeling like they had some unfinished business left to handle with the Redbirds.
St. Louis would have to wait one more year to capture the championship it sought, but the 2005 postseason still provided one of the most remarkable singular moments in Cardinals history.
2005: Albert quiets all of Houston in the Brad Lidge Game
2005 was the year the lights went out on the old Busch Stadium but Albert Pujols made sure it didn’t happen with the Cardinals playing on the road in Houston, Texas. With a majestic blast that some say still orbits the earth, Pujols extended the Cardinals season and etched a jaw-dropping moment into the minds of baseball fans everywhere.
With their backs against the wall down 3-1 in the NLCS, the Cardinals handed the ball to Chris Carpenter in Game 5 in Houston. This was Carpenter’s Cy Young Award-winning season in which he went 21-5 with a 2.83 ERA for St. Louis. Another element of his season that boded well for the team’s success in Game 5 was his 12-1 record in road starts that year. The Cardinals were looking to ride him ‘til the wheels fell off in an effort to save the season.
That’s essentially what they did. His pitching line doesn’t fully reflect the nature of the job Carpenter did that night, as four runs allowed doesn’t lend itself to consideration for a legendary performance. But only three of those runs were earned, and three came in his final inning of work in the seventh. Before that point, Carpenter had held the Cards steady in possession of a 2-1 lead for much of the game.
The Astros struck first in the second inning of Game 5, but it could have been far worse than it ended up. After a Brad Ausmus double into left, Houston had runners on second and third with nobody out. Carpenter limited the damage, earning a strikeout and then inducing a grounder to first, upon which Pujols threw home to cut down the potential first run of the game. Check out the video of the game’s full broadcast starting around the 44:20 for a phenomenal defensive play by Yadier Molina to save a run in that sequence.
How he wheeled around for the tag after fielding Albert’s throw at such a tough angle is beyond my understanding. That’s why he’s Yadi, I guess.
A flare off the bat of Craig Biggio got the Astros on the board later in the inning. The Cardinals’ answer came from veteran second baseman Mark Grudzielanek, who lifted a single into right-center with the bases loaded to score a pair. It’s all the Cardinals would get off Andy Pettite for the game as he pitched into the seventh, allowing just the two runs on seven hits.
As for Carpenter, he was determined to pitch through the seventh, but hit a stumbling block before reaching his destination—one that began with poor fielding and ended with Lance Berkman.
An error by Hector Luna at third allowed the first man to reach in the seventh. Then, an uncharacteristically bad decision by Molina nearly resulted in disaster, as Yadi tried to field a swinging bunt off the chalk of the first base line, but sent an errant throw past Pujols at first base. Molina was aggressive, trying to steal his pitcher an out. If the umpire hadn’t ruled the ball foul, it would have been pretty ugly. The Cardinals caught a break, temporarily.
The Astros put on the hit-and-run later in the at-bat and it worked to perfection, with a grounder through the right side of the infield finding the grass beyond it.
Then came Berkman.
Now, Berkman of course ended up as a key contributor to the Cardinals 2011 World Series championship team, for which Chris Carpenter also played. But on this night in 2005, Berkman played for the bad guys. His three-run home run into the Crawford boxes off Carpenter in the seventh inning of Game 5 gave the Astros a 4-2 lead, sending Minute Maid Park and the entire city of Houston into a frenzy.
A frenzy that only Albert Pujols could effectively hush.
Houston’s rock-solid closer Brad Lidge entered Game 5 with a 1.13 ERA for that 2005 postseason. The game, and the season, felt like it was out of reach for the Cardinals.
Lidge quickly disposed of John Rodriguez and John Mabry to put the Astros an out away from their first-ever trip to the World Series. The Fox broadcast had already awarded its ‘Player of the Game’ to Berkman for his series-clinching home run. I mean, I get it, those segments are sponsored, but time would show that there was only one player of this game, and it was not Lance Berkman.
With nobody on and two outs, the rally that slayed Goliath (for at least a day) and was capped by a one-man wrecking crew started meeky enough with the Cardinals very own ‘David’—Eckstein, that is.
The Cardinals shortstop faced a 1-2 count. Down to his final strike, Eckstein cranked a clutch single through the left side of the infield into left field. The crowd quieted for a moment, but roared back to life before Jim Edmonds began his at-bat. All was well. This was still their night to party in Houston, right?
Even when Lidge walked Edmonds next to bring Pujols to the plate as the potential go-ahead run, it still felt like a good time to be an Astros fan. After a quick meeting on the mound with Astros manager Phil Garner, the Houston All-Star with a 2.29 ERA and 42 regular-season saves would snap back into form and send the ‘Stros to the Series, surely.
Pujols stepped to the plate, and well—you know the rest.
An 11-year-old fan watching the game on the couch with my mom, this moment was probably the most excited, elated and flat-out fired up I had ever been about a sporting event to that point in my life. There was no chance Jason Isringhausen would allow a run in the bottom of the ninth, at that point. He didn't, and the Cardinals were winners in Game 5.
Long-term, it didn’t mean much. The Astros won Game 6 to advance to the World Series, where they eventually were swept by the Chicago White Sox in a forgettable series. And no, as fun as it is to imagine that the Pujols homer forever rendered Brad Lidge incapable of throwing a baseball, that’s revisionist history, too.
Lidge definitely had some bad years following 2005, but he also had one of his best seasons as a big-leaguer in 2008, when he was an All-Star with a 1.95 ERA in 69.1 innings for the Phillies. He enjoyed some success in 2010 and 2011, too. This is to say, Pujols didn’t break Brad Lidge, as you’ll often hear it described.
He at least knocked him off his pedestal for a while, though, giving us an indelible image of one of the most improbable baseball moments I’ve ever seen.
To Houston’s credit, everything you read about the Astros’ handling of the situation suggested the team was in good spirits after the stupefying homer. The story that has been told and retold more times than one could count is the one where Astros catcher Brad Ausmus instructed the pilot of the Astros’ charter plane to tell a joke about the home run during the team’s flight to St. Louis for Game 6.
"If you look to the left," Ausmus convinced the pilot to say over the intercom while the plane was in the air, "you can see Albert Pujols' home run ball."
Houston managed to laugh off one of the most soul-sucking homers baseball has ever seen. Hats off to them for it. Though the NLCS ended in a disappointing loss for the Cardinals in Game 6, Pujols’ home run in Game 5 lives on as one of the most prominent visuals of the last 20 years in Cardinals history.
With no baseball games going on in real life, watch the full replay of the game right here and then stmake sure to catch the next edition of Cards Capsules on Thursday. We promise you're going to want to reminisce about the game from 2006 which we're going to discuss.
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