At The Ballyard ... with Steve Weissman

Tuesday, October 18, 2005

Class Tells as Cards Beat 'Stros

It was only a matter of time, I suppose, before the team with baseball’s best record finally put in an appearance. Not that the St. Louis Cardinals have been playing poorly against the Houston Astros in the playoffs to this point – far from it! But the timely hit … the critical play … the ‘magic’ I wrote about yesterday have all been missing, and you could just see the frustration on the players’ faces.

But the pendulum swung dramatically last night, as the top of the St. Louis order finally did what it has done all season long, and simply made things happen. With two outs in the top of the ninth, trailing by two runs, and knowing that a loss meant the end of their quest for World Series redemption, David Eckstein singled and Jim Edmonds walked, and Astro closer Brad Lidge – he of the 97mph fastball – stared in as slugger Albert Pujols strode to the plate.

It was a moment that evoked memories of Kirk Gibson in Game One of the ’88 World Series. I know, Pujols wasn’t injured, so it wasn’t exactly the same thing. But he was 0 for 4 coming into the at bat and already had left four men on base, and the magic clearly had been working in Houston’s favor all series long. Yet, at that moment, anyone with any baseball sense at all just knew that this game was over, and not in the way the 43,470 people in attendance were anticipating. The Cardinals simply had capitalized too often on such opportunities during the season – last season, too, for that matter – for anybody wearing Astros gear to relax.

And sure enough: Pujols sent Lidge’s second pitch over the train tracks in left, and the lead suddenly and irreversibly changed hands. But in the end, even those pulling for Houston somehow were not overly disappointed, for these are the guys who are supposed to beat you. (For counterexamples, please see Rodriguez, A. or Guerrero, V.) Whether or not the magic again changes sides in St. Louis tomorrow or Thursday, for one night it was nice to see players who had carried their team all year do so again when it counts.

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