Being a native of St. Louis, and a lifelong Cardinals fan, I want to share today's Sports Editorial By Bernie Miklasz of the St. Louis Post Dispatch...
HOUSTON ó With one epic swing, Albert Pujols changed everything.
He altered the moods in two cities.
He broke hearts in Houston, and lifted them in St. Louis.
He terminated Houston's victory party, and kept hope alive in St. Louis.
He took the oxygen out of Minute Maid Park, leaving 43,470 fans speechless and silent and unable to comprehend what they'd just witnessed, a baseball traveling so high and so far that it probably appeared on a tracking system at the Houston-based NASA.
Pujols pierced the invincibility of Houston closer Brad Lidge, and sent Astros fans over the ledge.
With his three-run homer in the top of the ninth of NLCS Game 5, Pujols delivered a 5-4 victory and saved the season.
And, in true preservationist fashion, Pujols saved Busch Stadium, at least for one more game.
And he salvaged, at least for now, the blemished reputation of the Cardinals lineup in the postseason.
There will be a Game 6, St. Louis.
There will be a chance for an improbable comeback over the Astros.
And it's all courtesy of The Great Pujols, with some help from his friends David Eckstein and Jimmy Edmonds.
In a ninth inning rally for the ages, the Cardinals were trailing 4-2 and down to their last strike of the season. Lidge had Eckstein down 1-2 in the count, about to break hearts all over St. Louis and Missouri.
But the rooster, Eckstein, wasn't about to walk away. He singled off Lidge, through the left side.
Edmonds was next, and his at-bat went this way: ball, strike swinging, ball, ball, ball. He waited Lidge out. He made Lidge throw a strike. Lidge wouldn't give in, so Jimmy Ballgame happily took a walk to give the Cardinals runners at first and second.
The fans grew restless in their seats.
That brought up Pujols, the Musial of this Cardinals generation.
This is what he wanted. Especially after leaving four runners on base in his first two at-bats of Game 5.
"I know if my guys give me an opportunity, I want to make that last out," Pujols said. "I just want that opportunity to do something. If someone has to make the last out, I want it to be me."
Lidge made him look foolish, dipping a wicked 88 mph slider that Pujols chased for strike one.
Lidge came back with another slider, his best pitch.
Pujols was cocked, and waiting to unload.
If Lidge made a mistake, he was going to pay.
Indeed, the NLCS was about to change course.
Lidge hung the pitch, and Pujols hit the ball flush, with all of his power, all of his might.
And this wouldn't be one of those cheap, dinky home runs to the Crawford boxes that have become Houston's offensive specialty.
No, Pujols hit a real man's homer.
It climbed above those Crawford boxes, above the brick walls, and above the train tracks that adorn the top of left field.
The home run was measured at 412 feet, which is absolute fiction, and a joke - because this baby had to carry about 435, 450 feet.
No matter how far it traveled, it surely caused extensive damage in Houston.
Pujols canceled the champagne order, the civic fiesta, the Astros' on-field pile-up.
With the season on the line, Pujols was the calmest soul in the place. He wasn't worried when he stared at Lidge.
"That's because we came from behind big time in the year, and we're the same team," Pujols said. "We believe in ourselves."
Pujols must have known it wasn't supposed to end this way, not for the 2005 Cardinals, not for old Busch, not for their fans.
The lights of Busch weren't supposed to be turned off so soon.
The wrecking ball wasn't supposed to strike so suddenly.
The first blow to demolish Busch wasn't supposed to be triggered in Houston, on an apparent game-winning three-run homer off by Lance Berkman off Chris Carpenter in the bottom of the seventh inning, giving the Astros a 4-2 lead.
Berkman's HR traveled only 338 feet, but when it drifted over boards in left, it must have seemed as if a missile had landed at 250 Stadium Plaza in downtown St. Louis.
It wasn't supposed to go down like this, with the Cardinals coughing on their opportunities, going two for 12 in Game 5, and five for 34 in the NLCS.
The Cardinals were supposed to bring the NLCS back home, and keep Busch and their season going. They'd surely close Busch in style, or with a fight, by coming back to win the series, or by mounting a resilient last stand to hold the Astros off for as long as possible.
In terrible trouble Monday night, the Cardinals needed a hero.
And the man you expect dramatic things from stood and delivered.
The Great Pujols landed a blow, deep into the heart of Texas.