Anniversary of the Pujols Bomb in 2005

The NLCS Game 5 Bomb By Albert Pujols and Brad Lidge October 17, 2005 11 Years Ago Today

The NLCS Game 5 Bomb
By Albert Pujols and Brad Lidge
October 17, 2005
11 Years Ago Today

October 17, 2005: The Albert Pujols OMG Homer. Exactly 11 years prior to today’s column date, the Houston Astros had a 3-1 lead in games won against the St. Louis Cardinals, going into the top of the 9th in Game 5 of the NLCS with a 4-2 lead and closer Brad Lidge coming in to close the game and the series here in Houston at Minute Maid Park. Lidge responded immediately, striking out John Rodriquez and John Mabry, getting both befuddled Cardinal hitters on hapless swinging strikes. For the first time ever, the Astros were only one out away from reaching their first and only World Series. The Astros home crowd’s roaring buzz and murmuring Killer Bee buzz expressed the city’s hopes for our team’s entry into baseball’s equivalent of The Emerald City. Fans at the game were pumped and positively giddy over the almost certain prospect of this rarified deliverance of Houston’s desire to matter when it comes to the ascribed notion of cities of relevance in the largest scheme of all things of value that are the end product of certain roads to success in our American culture.

The hickey in that previous paragraph of expression is the phrase “almost certain”. In baseball, as in life, there is no “almost” gradient quality to winning. It either happens, or it doesn’t, and anything less than a happening amounts to nothing more than compensatory rationalization by losers that “we fought the good fight; we just didn’t win.” And, as for the word “certain”, it stands true in only two instances. The only two certainties in life really are – death and taxes – and we have no proof that either is valuable to us while we survive in a state of good health and any level of worldly prosperity. As a result, we have the right to place our faith in religion and politicians for assurance that death and taxes have value for us beyond the end of our lives and life savings.

Nevertheless, thinking that something that hasn’t quite yet happened is “almost certain” or “in the bag” runs rampantly through the human condition when we draw very near the attainment of some long-desired obsessive goal. And that state of mind ran rampantly through the Astros crowd by the time that Mr. Brad Lidge mowed down the first two of three final batters in NLCS Game #5 on Sunday Night, October 17, 2005.

Lidge would end the top of the 9th on a third strikeout, but it would not come against the next man and  third batter of the inning. The third Cardinals batter of the inning was David Eckstein – and he slashed a ground ball single to left field. – “Oh well, let’s get the next guy, Brad,” we quietly communed our adjusted hopes into the still positive atmosphere.

Jim Edmonds then came up as the fourth batter of the inning and he drew the instant attention of pitcher Lidge and pretty much everyone else. Edmonds avoided swinging at some Lidge sliders in the dirt and got into a ball and strike encounter with Lidge. Its intensity was good enough to allow base runner Eckstein to move up to second base on a fielder’s indifference call. Now the Cardinals had a runner in scoring position; and they already had the potential tying run at the plate from the moment that Edmonds stepped into hit. Maybe that was a fact that contributed to his ability to run a pitch count. Mr. Lidge may have realized it too.

Lidge walked Edmonds. The Cardinals now had runners at first and second. And killer power guy Albert Pujols was coming to bat.

In spite of the potentially disastrous situation, it still felt to many, if not most of us, that Lidge was going to close it out on strikeout, especially when Lidge started him out with a strike.

Then came Lidge’s second pitch to Pujols. If you weren’t watching the batter’s box closely, chances are you only heard this horrendously scary contact between bat and and ball. By the time you looked up to track and find the ball in the open sky of an open roof night , it may have already started its long perpendicular fall through the dimly lit far shadows onto Crawford Street beyond the left field wall – or, you simply may have missed seeing it altogether. Many of the incredibly quiet crowd did missed seeing the most infamous enemy blast in Houston baseball history. Fans were stunned into silence. Brad Lidge stood on the mound like a motionless statue. Two runners preceded Pujols on his deliberate non-showy trot around the bases.

Most of us later saw a tape of the televised closeup of Astros pitcher Andy Pettitte as watched the Pujols homer leave the park in the top of the ninth that Houston-fated night. One could easily read his lips and the slowly forming words “Oh My God” supplying the moment’s historical caption. The Cardinals were not defeated, after all. In fact, they now lead the game by the same tally that would stand as the final score of 5-4.

Everything remained quiet the rest of the way. Lidge finished the next batter, Reggie Sanders, on a called strike three, but three horses, including the big one, had escaped by the time Brad closed the barn door on both the game – and some say, his confidence as a closer. Who knows? Brad was a nice guy, a strong guy, and a gifted guy, as I came to know him as fan, and ever so briefly socially on one occasion, and he would have his day in 2008 as the Phillies closer who took them to a World Series title. All I deduce is that it’s almost impossible to conclude that any pitcher could go through what Brad Lidge went through that incredibly bad moment and not be effected by it forever in some way.

We’ll Never Know. How much did the infamous Pujols 2005 NLCS Game 5 homer help the Chicago Whites Sox sweep the Houston Astros in the World Series? We’ll never know, but it isn’t hard to see the most obvious effect – and how that one effect changed the whole pitching rotation for Astros Manager Phil Garner in the World Series. Had the Astros won Game Five, the Astros could have started a fresh. at-the-top-of-his-game Roy Oswald in the World Series. BUT – because of the Pujols HR and the resulting Astros loss, the two NLC teams had to fly back to St. Louis for A Game Six that would be won by Roy Oswald, at the price of him now not being available to start in the World Series against the White Sox. The Astros started a vulnerable Roy Clemens whose recent leg injury helped render him ineffective in the cold temperatures of Game One in Chicago. The Astros lost the World Series Opener and then went on to a four-game-sweep loss in their only World Series to date.

____________________

eagle-0range
 Bill McCurdy

Publisher, Editor, Writer

The Pecan Park Eagle

Houston, Texas

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4 Responses to “Anniversary of the Pujols Bomb in 2005”

  1. Wayne Roberts Says:

    That homer was a thing of beauty. I was in the club level along the first base line and never moved after he swung…just watched that line shot in awe. Dead silence. It was reported that on their flight to St. Louis for Game 6 one of the Astros pointed out the plane’s window to Lidge’s dismay yelling “Look, there’s Pujols’ ball!”

    I was lucky enough to score seats to Game 6 (first row behind the Cards’ dugout but that’s another story). If you’ll recall, that was the true last game at old Busch (or Busch II) and the new Busch was already being built against old Busch. Amongst the demolition of the old stadium was some graffiti: “Pujols homer hit here”.

    Game 6 made the Pujols’ homer a pleasant memory.

  2. Rick B. Says:

    The Pujols homer certainly destroyed Lidge’s confidence in the 2005 World Series. It’s one thing to give up a homer to Pujols, but Lidge surrendered the game-winning homer in WS Game 2 to Scott Podsednik, who had not hit a single home run during the entire regular season (and he was a starter!). Of course, Lidge also gave up the only run of the 1-0 Game 4 loss that ended the sweep, although it didn’t come on a home run.

    Like you, Bill, I always had the impression that Lidge was a stand-up guy, and I was happy for him in 2008 when he finished a perfect season (nary a single blown save in the regular or post season) by being on the mound at the end of the Game 5 clincher for the Phillies. Just wish he could have accomplished that feat with the Astros.

  3. Mark W Says:

    I was at that event, sitting with Bill Gilbert in our usual seats behind the third base dugout, near home plate. The din of every screaming soul in that sold-out crowd was more deafening than anything I’ve ever heard, and yet I swear I could hear the sound of that baseball coming off Pujols’ bat, a distinctive crack like a blast from a cannon, even above the din. The trajectory of the ball rising from the infield was sufficiently extraordinary that most knew instantly the score had just flip-flopped. And the sudden silence confirmed it. Silence isn’t really quite the right word to describe the change. It was more like a vacuum had suddenly sucked all the vocal vibrations into a void. From the moment the ball ricocheted off the bat, the deafening din morphed into that eerie absence of sound that was so complete, I could hear the sound of Pujols’ cleats padding on the baseline dirt as he trotted towards home plate. I couldn’t tell where the ball landed, but I had the sense that it cleared Union Station and possibly the street beyond. It was such a memorable moment for me because it was so dramatically crushing in the way it inverted disaster from glory. And if it could be that crushing for a mere fan, imagine being the fellow who had just dished up that delicacy to Albert Pujols, standing on a little dirt mound right smack in the center of the spectacle, surrounded by close to 50,000 deliriously roaring supporters. I agree with Rick B. that Lidge was so highly affected by this experience that it led to his disastrous performance in the world series. And he was terrible the entire following season. He managed to pull himself together a bit in 2007, but he was no longer the “Lights Out” Lidge that had given us all so much confidence in the ninth inning of that game against St. Louis. The change of venue to Philadelphia was apparently the tonic that the doctor ordered for him to salvage one more great season from his career. As Yogi said, (allegedly), baseball is 90% mental; the other half is physical.

    • Bill McCurdy Says:

      Beautiful recollection, Mark, and incredibly well written into the very ether of that now long ago ontological moment of painfully shared memory. You write from the soul, my friend, and you give us all you’ve got in easy to keep treasured pieces, Your comments on The Pujols Bomb will remain in my personal files on that evening forever.

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