Tuesday, October 18, 2005


Dave Henderson Redux?

Albert Pujols. Stud.

What Pujols did last night was the kind of thing that turns men into baseball gods. When people speak of money players, this is what they’re talking about. With the season on the line and no margin for error, and facing the meanest, nastiest, fire-breathing S.O.B. to take the mound in years, Pujols deposits one somewhere between Pluto and Endor. What Pujols did to that ball, well, make the children and the men of the cloth leave the premises, and then I’ll start to describe it. The way Pujols strolled up the first base line, knowing the ball was headed safely toward the railroad tracks somewhere out there, with his chin held high and his chest pumped…the guy just looked like Zeus. There have been plenty of heroics this postseason, but nothing non-Bondsian in recent memory has even come close to embodying the traditional Ruthian-type portrait of the Baseball Hero that Pujols did last night.

What we saw in Game 5 was a thing of beauty, an electrifying see-saw battle between two proud teams, one on the brink of extinction, the other within an eyelash of its first World Series ever. Ace pitchers battled tirelessly, star players lived up to their billing, and the heart of an entire city was torn out with one mighty swing of the bat. The Astros seemed like a lock to win their first pennant in their 40-year existence, but then Albert Pujols had to go all Dave Henderson on Brad Lidge and spoil the party. In the blink of an eye, Minute Maid Park was transformed from a mosh pit into a morgue. The looks on the faces of the Astro players and personnel were priceless. Andy Petitte visibly yelled “Oh my God” in disbelief as if the card shark across the table had busted out pocket aces to beat his kings. Roger Clemens sat there with an expression of quiet disgust, like the highly conservative father sitting through his daughter’s lesbian wedding. In the VIP boxes, Nolan Ryan looked like he was suddenly in need of a good laxative. The fans in the ballpark had their hands on their heads in sickened incredulity.

But such is baseball. One minute it seems like nothing can go wrong, the next you’re on a plane to St. Louis, making last minute cancellations on those movie reservations you had for Wednesday. The Cards still have to get through two aces, but they’re in the best possible frame of mind in facing such a hurdle. They now go home to play in front of what will be a frenzied Busch Stadium crowd, coming off of their most emotional victory of the season. The Astros, meanwhile, have to pick themselves back up after being so close to the finish line and not play like a bunch of kids who just had their pants pulled down by the school bully in the middle of recess. When this same thing happened to the Angels in 1986, they too had to go back on the road to face a Red Sox team playing with a second wind, and they got stomped. The ‘Stros have their best guns ready to fire, but even the nastiest Clemens splitter might not be able to beat the Cardinals after this knockout of a game.

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