King Kaufman's Sports Daily

The Shot Heard Over the Crawford Boxes: Titanic Pujols blast beats Astros, keeps Cardinals alive.


Salon Staff
October 18, 2005 8:00PM (UTC)

Now that was a home run.

Albert Pujols hit a Brad Lidge slider into orbit Monday night, a cartoon blast, one that leaves a hole in the wall behind the left-field bleachers while still rising and then keeps going, flying over points on the map: El Paso, Phoenix, Los Angeles, Kamchatka ...

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With that three-run shot, the St. Louis Cardinals, moments earlier one strike from elimination, beat the Houston Astros 5-4 in Game 5 of the National League Championship Series, sending it back to St. Louis. The Astros still lead the series 3-2, just the same as last year, when they went north and lost two in a row.

The Astros had built their 4-2 lead Monday on a three-run homer by Lance Berkman in the seventh inning. That was a cheapie, a Minute Maid Park special into the so-called Crawford boxes, the short-porch seats in left that turn routine fly balls into titanic shots in the box score.

Not that Berkman's hit wasn't legit. As Fox TV analyst Bob Brenly pointed out, that left-field fence had been sitting in the same place for both teams all series long.

But still. To compare Berkman's homer to Pujols' is to say this column is somehow similar to "Moby-Dick."

Pujols' homer sent guys like me scrambling to our memory banks and record books looking for comparisons. The two that sprung to mind for me were the Dave Henderson game in the 1986 American League Championship Series and Jeff Kent's Game 5-winner against the Cardinals in last year's NLCS.

In that 1986 Game 5, as in this one, the winning team, the Boston Red Sox, had been down three games to one and down to their last strike. And the opponent, the California Angels, like this year's Astros, were trying to get to the World Series for the first time.

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Henderson, who earlier had had a Bobby Grich drive bounce off his glove and go up and over the fence for a homer that gave the Angels a 3-2 lead, hit a two-run shot in the top of the ninth to put Boston on top 6-5.

The Angels tied that game in the ninth before the Sox won in the 11th on a sacrifice fly by Henderson. Boston went home and won Games 6 and 7.

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Pujols didn't go from goat to hero like Henderson did, though he had gone 0-for-4, twice making out with two men on base. On the other hand, Henderson's homer came off a fairly ordinary reliever, the tragic Donnie Moore, while Pujols' came against Lidge, one of the game's best, who until this series had dominated the Cardinals.

Three years after Henderson's home run I was standing around the batting cage before an Angels-Athletics game in Oakland. Henderson, a sunny, jovial guy, was now playing for the A's. The A's were finishing up batting practice and the Angels were on the field doing their stretching. Henderson, always smiling and talking, greeted Tony Armas of the Angels, who had been his teammate on the '86 Red Sox.

They hugged, joked, talked, laughed. Old friends catching up. Most of the rest of the Angels stared daggers at them as they stretched. I doubt Albert Pujols is going to be much more popular than that in Houston a few years down the road, though all will be forgotten if the Astros win one of the next two games, and all will be forgiven if he ever signs with the team as a free agent.

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Kent's home run last year looked a lot like Pujols' shot, a monster drive off the back wall behind the Crawford boxes. That drive, in the bottom of the ninth inning, ended what had been a beautifully pitched, scoreless ballgame.

And so on. Jack Clark's 1985 pennant-winning homer -- with first base open! -- for the Cardinals in the top of the ninth inning of Game 6 against the Los Angeles Dodgers comes to mind. So does Ozzie Smith's winner in the previous game, in St. Louis.

And you may have heard about Bobby Thomson winning the pennant for the New York Giants in 1951 with a home run against the Brooklyn Dodgers in the finale of a three-game playoff.

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I don't think Pujols' homer ranks with that one, or with the great World Series game winners, with Bill Mazeroski, Kirk Gibson or Joe Carter. All Pujols has done, so far, is stave off elimination.

Then again, all Herman Melville did was write about a whale. It was a hell of a thing. And let's not forget David Eckstein keeping the ninth inning alive with a two-out, two-strike single on a lazy slider by Lidge, or Jim Edmonds working the apparently rattled closer for a walk to get Pujols to the plate.

Now the Cardinals just have to do what they did to the Astros last year, win Games 6 and 7 at home. Can they do it? Sure.

Will they? I don't know, of course, and I did pick the Astros to win in seven before this series started. But I think Houston would be well advised to win Game 6, with Roy Oswalt, the only one of their Big 3 starters who has completely lived up to the title this postseason, starting against Mark Mulder.

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I don't think the Astros want to go to a Game 7 on the road, on a two-game losing streak, and with Roger Clemens on the mound. For all his greatness, Clemens has not, for most of his career, been a very good big-game pitcher.

And somehow the idea of just getting the ball to Brad Lidge isn't as appealing as it was 24 hours ago.

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Let's talk [PERMALINK]

I've been saying for years that most people never get to read the best part of my column. Well, at least that's been my story and I'm sticking to it.

What I'm talking about is the back-and-forth I've had with readers by e-mail. Your letters are often great, my replies occasionally almost as good. I sometimes publish a selection of letters in the column, but that's been the tip of the iceberg. A lot of great stuff that I think people would enjoy reading remains hidden forever.

I've also tried hard to answer every letter I've ever received, though I haven't always kept up. But lately the volume has simply overwhelmed me. I can no longer even send a boilerplate thanks to everyone who writes me.

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That's why I want to encourage you to use Salon's new letters system. I am preposterously excited about it.

At the end of every column, or any Salon story, you'll now find links that say "Post a letter about this article" and "Read all letters about this article." Rather than sending me an e-mail that's sure to die in my overcrowded in box, post it there. I'll still read it, and I'll reply if an answer is warranted.

But the best thing is everyone can read it, and they can read my reply, and add their own.

We're not inventing the wheel here. This is essentially the comments section familiar from any blog. But with an administrator. In the case of this column, that'll be me. I'll delete spam and mark the most interesting letters as "editor's choice." You can choose to read all of the letters, or, if you prefer an editor to act as a filter, you can just read these editor's choices.

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You can still use e-mail for those marriage proposals, job offers and the like, but if we're going to talk about sports or this column, let's do it out in the open. Let's at least try it.

Previous column: USC-Notre Dame, old school

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