It was five years ago today that one of the most remarkable games in Astros history was played. Let's remember it.
Going into the final two games of the season, the Astros had lost two games to the Cubs - including the September 30 game when Brad Lidge came in to preserve a 3-2 lead, and allowed three straight hits, a fielder's choice, and a single to pinch-hitter Todd Walker, scoring Michael Barrett for the go-ahead run and the Cubs win. A Philly win at Washington cut the Astros' Wild Card lead to one game.
Again, Philly won on October 1 at Washington, but Roger Clemens threw 7IP, 6H/1ER, 5K:3BB, and Craig Biggio led off the game with a first-pitch homer off the Cubs' Jerome Williams, eventually winning the game 3-1. On the last day of the season, Philly again beat the piss out of Washington, and an Astros loss would send it to a tie for the Wild Card. Sending Roy Oswalt to the mound to face Greg Maddux, Oswalt wasn't perfect, but Maddux got roughed up for ten hits and six runs (four of them earned), and the Astros were playoff-bound for the second straight year.
The 82-80 Padres, meanwhile were bound for a First Round matchup with the 100-62 Cardinals (despite having the 7th-best record in the NL). The Astros would face the 90-72 Braves, setting up a rematch of the 2004 NLDS that saw the Astros win their first post-season series in franchise history.
Of course, the Astros won the 2005 NLDS, featuring the incredible 18-inning game which featured the series-clinching Greatest Chris Burke AB Of All Time (or the GCBABOAT, as it's known in my house) in Game 4. The Cardinals swept the Padres to set up the second 2004 rematch of the postseason.
Chris Carpenter beat Andy Pettitte in Game 1, while Roy outdueled Mark Mulder in Game 2, with Lidge getting the save. Clemens beat Matt Morris in Game 3 to take a 2-1 series lead, with Brandon Backe getting the ball in Game 4. Backe got the no-decision, but did enough in 5.2IP to earn the win (2H/1ER, 7K:3BB) as the Astros were one game away from their first trip to the World Series.
Game 5 saw a starting pitcher rematch, with Chris Carpenter getting the start for St. Louis and Andy Pettitte taking the mound for the Astros at Minute Maid Park in front of 43,470 fans, who were all about the Astros (as the Texans had been defeated the day before at home to Seattle, 42-10, to drop to 0-5).
Pettitte hit (insert some adjective for "gritty" here) David Eckstein on a 1-2 count to start the game, and walked Jim Edmonds on five pitches. With runners on 1st and 2nd, Pujols popped up to third on the first pitch, and Reggie Sanders flied out to left - also on the first pitch. Larry Walker grounded out in front of the plate, and Pettitte was out of the inning, having thrown just 13 pitches.
Craig Biggio took a 1-2 pitch back up the middle for a single in the bottom of the 1st, Chris Burke laid down a sac bunt to move Biggio to second, and Lance Berkman fouled off three straight pitches after working Carpenter to a 3-1 count before laying off the eighth pitch of the at-bat, and drawing the walk. With one out, Biggio on 2nd and Berkman on 1st, Morgan Ensberg and Mike Lamb didn't get the ball out of the infield, and the inning was over.
Pettitte took over for the top of the 2nd, allowing a double to Yadier Molina, but getting Hector Luna and Chris Carpenter to end the inning - with runners in scoring position for the second time in two innings.
Jason Lane led off the bottom of the 2nd with a single to left, and Brad Ausmus doubling through the hole to put Lane on 3rd base with nobody out. Adam Everett struck out swinging on three pitches. Pettitte put one on the ground, and Pujols threw home to get a breaking Jason Lane, Molina tagging him to preserve the scoreless-tie. Biggio, in his 2nd AB of the game, sent a liner to left field, scoring Brad Ausmus for the first lead of the game. Burke struck out swinging to end the inning, but the Astros were ahead.
With Eckstein leading off the top of the 3rd, he sent Pettitte's first-pitch to center field, dropping in front of Chris Burke. On the 1-1 pitch to Jim Edmonds, Eckstein stole second, and an Edmonds liner to right was hit too hard for Eckstein to score from 2nd. Pujols and Sanders both struck out swinging, but Pettitte then walked Larry Walker to load the bases. Mark Grudzielanek then sent a 1-1 pitch to right field, scoring both Eckstein and Edmonds and putting Walker on third base. Pettitte struck out Molina to end the inning, and while he struck out the side, the Cardinals had a 2-1 lead.
Carpenter and Pettitte both retired the side in order next time around, and Jason Lane was hit on a 1-2 pitch to lead off the 4th. Ausmus grounded out, and the Cardinals could only get Lane at second base. Adam Everett singled on an 0-2 pitch, putting Ausmus at second base with one out. A Pettitte sac bunt moved the runners up, and Biggio lined Carpenter's first pitch to left, ending the threat.
The Cardinals and Astros traded singles in the 5th, but nothing came of it, and the game headed to the 6th inning, with the Cardinals still leading 2-1. Grudzielanek singled to left, but was thrown out by Berkman (playing left) trying to stretch it into a double. Yadier Molina then singled to left, but Luna and Carpenter didn't do anything with their ABs - Pettitte needed three pitches to get those two outs.
Lane and Ausmus flied out to left and right, respectively, and Everett stood in, worked the count full, and grounded out to Carpenter on the 8th pitch of the game. After six innings, Pettitte had allowed 7H/2ER, 4K:2BB, HBP and thrown 102 pitches. Carpenter had allowed 6H/1ER, 6K:1BB, HBP, and had thrown 98 pitches.
In the top of the 7th, Eckstein again led off, and sent a groundball to Everett, who committed the error to allow Eckstein to reach. He was picked off two pitches later, to erase him on the basepaths. Edmonds resumed his AB, and reached first - this time thanks to Mike Lamb's catching error. With 110 pitches thrown, Pettitte's day was done, and Phil Garner called on Chad Qualls to relieve him. Qualls had thrown the previous day, ultimately getting the win in Brandon Backe's gem, needing nine pitches to get his three outs - two by groundball, and one flyout.
Qualls got Pujols and Sanders both to groundout to third base, and the inning was over. In the bottom of the 7th, with Qualls due to leadoff the inning, Garner send Orlando Palmeiro to pinch-hit, and he grounded out on an 0-1 pitch. Biggio hit a sharp grounder to third baseman Hector Luna, who nutted it, allowing Biggio to reach base for the third time of the game. Chris Burke singled through the right side, and Biggio took the extra base, setting up Lance Berkman with runners on 1st and 3rd, with one out. Berkman took Carpenter's first pitch deep, and the Astros regained the lead, 4-2. Morgan Ensberg singled to left to keep the inning going, but Mike Lamb flied out to center to end the inning.
A slew of defensive changes followed to start the 8th. Mike Gallo came in to pitch, Willy Taveras came in to play center, Burke moved from center to left, Berkman moved from left field to first base, Eric Bruntlett came in for Biggio, and Mike Lamb's day was over. Gallo ultimately just threw one pitch, getting a grounder right back at him off the bat of Larry Walker. Grudzielanek flied out to center and Molina grounded out to end the Cardinals' side of the 8th. Lane, Ausmus, and Everett went down in order (though getting Isringhausen to throw 21 pitches to do it), and the game headed to the 9th.
Brad Lidge entered the game. He had thrown 4IP in the NLCS entering Game 5, and had allowed 4H/1ER and a walk. This is after he had thrown 4IP in the NLDS against the Braves, allowing 2H/0ER, with 5K:4BB. And that's after Lidge had posted 42 saves in the regular season, with a 2.29 ERA/1.15 WHIP, walking 23 batters all season long. So he had thrown 78.2IP entering Game 5, and with 23 walks in the first 70.2IP, he had walked five batters in his last 8IP. Still, he was the Best Closer In The Game.
Albert Pujols said of Lidge: He's probably the best closer in the game besides Mariano right now. He has probably the best slider in the game. The Astros had lost one game all season with the lead to start the 9th inning.
Tony LaRussa: "I was thinking, If one guy gets on base, then Jim Edmonds, he's got legitimate game-tying power. And if we got a little something going, and you've got Albert and you've got Reggie, I think that's the strategy you want to have."
John Rodriguez was sent in to pinch-hit for Hector Luna. In two plate appearances against Lidge in 2005, he had an RBI sac fly and a strikeout. Rodriguez took a first-pitch ball, swung and missed at the next three pitches. One out.
John Mabry stepped in. He waved at the first pitch, took the second for a ball, waved at the third, fouled off the fourth, and struck out swinging on the 5th. Two outs. Lidge had thrown nine pitches, six of them swings and misses, one foul, and two balls.
Meanwhile, the Astros were starting to celebrate. Larry Walker: "We were looking over to their bench, and guys were high-fiving. A couple of guys were even dancing. But until that fat lady sings, you can't do that."
Jason Isringhausen: "Any time we go into the ninth with the bottom of the lineup coming up, all we're trying to do is get a hit, get a walk, get a couple of guys on -- because we know: We've got to get Albert up there."
David Eckstein hit for what seemed like the 12th time of the game. Eckstein: "The one thing I didn't want to do was get into any type of jumpiness. Any type of anything in my body besides just focus on the baseball. And it's pretty calming to step into at the plate in that situation. I have no idea, no reason why."
He took the first pitch for a ball, took a called first strike, and took a called second strike. The Astros were one strike away from going to the World Series. But he reached out and tagged the fourth pitch for a grounder to left.
On the first pitch to Edmonds, he took off for second, but Ausmus didn't make a throw. That first pitch, though, was a ball. Edmonds swung at the second pitch, and watched the next three go by for balls, and the Cardinals had runners on 1st and 2nd. Still two outs.
Phil Garner: "You have to let Edmonds hit the ball in the next count. You can't walk him and [Ausmus] knows that and that was a mistake."
In all of Pujols' MVP season in 2005, he had 36 starts in which he did not get a hit. At this point in the game, Pujols was 0x4 and had left five Cardinals on base. In only seven instances had Pujols gone 0x5 in a game.
Chris Carpenter: "I'm sitting there thinking that we've got the best closer in the game on the mound -- but we also have the best hitter in the game at the plate...It was an unbelievable feeling."
Pujols stood in for the first pitch, with Eckstein on 2nd and Edmonds on 1st. Pujols was taken off-balance by Lidge's first-pitch slider. Strike one. He hit .330/.430/.609 in 2005. But with an 0-1 count, he "only" hit .281/.281/.484. With runners on 1st and 2nd in 2005, he hit .380/.436/.640. But in the 9th inning, Pujols hit .184/.293/.367 in 58 PAs.
I was nervous. I was in my lucky spot - in the kitchen, but to where I could still see the television. Hands behind my head.
Lidge dug in for the second pitch. Pujols: "I was just thinking, 'Don't swing at the same slider that I swung at the first pitch.'"
You know what happened next, what happened 412 feet later. Brad Lidge's crouching. Andy Pettitte's "Oh. My. Gosh."
Larry Walker: "I've never heard 43,000 people shut up, just like that, in my life. One second, you could barely hear in here. And the next second, all that noise was gone. And the only noise you could hear was on our bench."
Ray King: "When that ball flew over our heads, I turned to Marty Mason, our bullpen coach, and said, 'That's why they pay that guy 100 million bucks.'"
Pujols: "I just couldn't believe that I did it."
Willy Taveras and Jose Vizcaino grounded out to first, and Chris Burke ended the game with a fly ball to right.
Garner: "It's terrible. You're as high as a kite one minute ... We were feeling pretty good, but you have to play every out. We failed to play every out tonight. We just didn't do it."
Lidge: "It stings. (But) we're going to win, and when that happens, it's not going to matter."