That was at once, the most stressful and rewarding baseball game that I can ever remember watching. I had a basketball game last night so I missed the first two innings. By the time I got home the Cards had two on and nobody out in the top of the third. Shortly after I walk in, FOX shows a highlight from the first inning of Pujols popping out with Eckstein and Edmonds on base which allows Houston to get out of the first unscathed. This highlight is quickly followed by Pettite striking out Pujols and Walker. At this point, I’m thinking that I’ve cursed the Cardinals with my reference to Pujols not having any opportunities to drive in runs during this NLCS. In my warped mind it sure didn’t seem coincidental that I mentioned it in my blog (the official stat was that the bases were empty for 11 of Albert’s 12 at bats going into yesterday’s game) and Pujols, in turn, squandered two RBI chances in the game’s first three innings. Somehow, Mark Grudzielanek poked a flare to right that scored two before Pettite was able to get out of the inning. “Great…we scored”, I’m thinking, but I also think two runs won’t be enough to win this game. Of course I was right, and when Lance Berkman smacked a ball into the leftfield seats in the 7th it seemed as if the Cardinals’ season would end right then and there. Things looked very dire at that point but I certainly wasn’t going to retire to bed before this game was officially over.
By the time the 9th inning rolled around I was thumbing through my Sports Illustrated in an attempt to pass the time in between pitches because, frankly, it was making me a little ill watching all the celebrating Astros fans. It was over. My teeth were brushed and I was all set to call it a night, and a season for that matter. Then David Eckstein (Go Gators!) steps to the plate and hits a seeing eye single to the left side. I’m relieved but I’m hardly confident, especially when you consider the career numbers that Jim Edmonds has against Brad Lidge. Inexplicably, Lidge doesn’t go after Edmonds even though Albert Pujols is standing in the on deck circle. He continues to nibble around the plate and ends up issuing a walk. It was an awful decision, no matter the consequences, if only because none of Lidge’s pitches were even that close. Now I’m starting to think that the Cards have a shot to get back to Busch for at least one more game. Either that or I’ve managed to put the hex on the best hitter in baseball, thereby causing him to take the collar in three straight RBI situations.
Well, we all know what happened next. Lidge hung a slider and Pujols reached out and destroyed it. That thing was a bomb. The best part about it was Pujols’ reaction…there wasn’t one. He watched it go out, threw his bat to the side and without so much as a grin rounded the bases. The man just saved the Cardinals season from oblivion and you’d have thought he had just grabbed his mail. As I said to my, at this point horrified girlfriend, (there had been a lot of screaming, especially when Yadier Molina tried to field the slow roller along the first base line in the seventh) “He’s like a robot. A big, Dominican, hitting robot.”
I picked up the phone to call my Dad on his cell phone since I knew he’d be up and I didn’t want to wake my Mom. I had to share this moment with somebody and it wasn’t going to be my girlfriend since she may have dozed off before I jumped up screaming as Pujols’ shot went flying out of the park. I dial my Dad’s number and it goes straight to voicemail. Oh well. At this point I’m not even close to falling asleep so I go take a shower (remember, I walked in from a basketball game so I reek at this point). As I’m in the shower I here the phone ring. It’s my Dad, it has to be. I pick up the phone and he tells me that he is in Atlantic City. On “business”, of course. We talk about the entire game and go over the ninth inning in minute detail. After about ten minutes, he tells me he’ll be home on Wednesday and that he’ll call me then. We both get off the phone as happy as we’ve been in quite some time. It sounds cheesy but I really did feel like I was walking on air (or sunshine, if you like crappy 80’s songs). Easily the most memorable and magical finish that I’ve witnessed to a Cardinal game since Ozzie’s walk off homer against the Dodgers in Game 5 of the 1985 NLCS. I was 9 then so you can imagine that last night had a little different feel to me. I don’t know what’s going to happen on Wednesday night. I do know that it could possibly be the last game ever played at Busch Stadium and that the place will be absolute pandemonium.
It’s not over, not yet.