Tuesday, October 18, 2005

Hooray for Baseball

I started watching the Astros-Cardinals game last night just about the top of the 7th inning, which was just about right to catch the amazing amount of excitement created by the game. As excited as I was about the White Sox's victory on Sunday night, that's about how amazed I was by last night's 5-4 Cardinal victory.

First, Lance Berkman puts the Astros ahead with a 3-run home run in the bottom of the 7th inning. Now, you can say that the Crawford Boxes are an abomination, the apocryphal short porch of this offensive era. And I would probably agree with you. However, that does not make what Lance Berkman did - reach out and essentially cue Cris Carpenter's low, outside pitch into the seats in left. If it was not a home run (and it really would not be anywhere else), it still would have been a bases-clearing double and an Astros lead. A tremendous piece of hitting by Berkman and use of the field. (Note - On Baseball Tonight, one of the jokers suggested that the pitch got too much of the plate. Why is every home run a mistake by a pitcher? That was a low and outside pitch. Give Berkman some credit).

On the strength of Berkman's homer (it probably was the third most dramatic home run in Astros history, behind Chris Burke's home run to win the 18 inning game last Sunday and Billy Hatcher's home run in the 14th inning of Game 6 of the 1986 NLCS), the Astros take the two-run lead into the top of the ninth with closer extraordinaire Brad Lidge on the mound. Mostly, Brad Lidge's "stuff" is described as "filthy," which, in today's jargon, is the highest compliment that can be made. He gets two strikeouts, and two strikes on David Eckstein, the Cardinals' last chance. The champagne is on ice, and the Astros' lockers are covered by plastic...and Fox is cutting to shots of Nolan Ryan and other Houston notables getting ready to celebrate the Astros' first World Series appearance.

Then, what can only be described as baseball magic happened. Eckstein hacks at a low slider, makes contact, and it bounds almost knowingly between and past the Astros' third baseman and shortstop - a ball that perhaps had less than one degree of clearance in the 90 degrees between the baselines.

Jim Edmonds walks on five pitches, none of which were strikes (he offered at a slider in the dirt).

At this point, the tension is high. I'm watching the game with my wife, whom I inform that Albert Pujols is by far the best hitter remaining in the playoffs. She even knows that, by God, Pujols is already a legend. Without hesitation, I audibly suggest that the Astros' best course of action is to walk Albert Pujols. It would be damned unconventional, and would violate every traditional rule about not putting the tying run in scoring position, and not putting the winning run on base. But I really had a sense that Albert Pujols was not to be disturbed in this situation.

He was. After fooling Pujols on a first-pitch slider, Lidge tried another slider. It was up and out over the plate and Pujols pujolsed it. I use the newly-invented verb pujols (gerund, pujolsing) because none of the other verbs in the English language I've tried (destroyed, shattered, obliterated, annihilated) adequately did it justice. I watched the home-run contest in Houston last year and am familiar with how balls travel there. Nothing during that contest traveled as far as fast as Pujols' home run. If it wasn't for the plexiglass of the dome, that ball would have safely traveled 600 feet, if it had not already achieved escape velocity.

I give some credit to the Fox announcing team - they described the reaction of the Houston fans as having a vacuum created as 43,000 gasped for air. Now it's the Astros' players that will be gasping for breath in this series. It's tough to take a gutshot like that and survive. The California Angels took a gutshot like that and they were cooked in Games 6 and 7 of the 1986 ALCS by a score of 18-5.

The Astros have Oswalt and Clemens for Games 6 and 7. But that just reminds me of the Cubs in 2003, where their battle cry in Game 5 was "even if we lose, we've got Wood and Prior going in Games 6 and 7."

I love baseball.


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