Pujols rescues Cards with ninth-inning HR

Tuesday, October 18, 2005

HOUSTON -- Down to their last out, the St. Louis Cardinals brought the NL championship series home.

Albert Pujols' dramatic, three-run home run in the ninth inning off Houston Astros closer Brad Lidge gave the 100-win Cardinals a last-gasp chance to save their season.

The Cardinals beat Houston 5-4 Monday night, and they'll try to keep the comeback going in Game 6 Wednesday night at 40-year-old Busch Stadium, which will be demolished after the season to make room for a new ballpark that will carry the same name.

The Cardinals will have to beat 20-game winner Roy Oswalt and Roger Clemens to complete the comeback and make it a happy homecoming. But at least they're still playing.

Pujols' 412-foot shot off Lidge soared far past Minute Maid Park's short porch in left field and turned a two-run deficit into a one-run lead and kept the Cardinals' longest losing streak of the season at three games.

Pujols turned on a Lidge slider, and it was just about the only sign of life the Cardinals offense has shown in last four games. They totaled five runs in the previous three games and are a feeble 6-for-34 with runners in scoring position, including 2-for-11 in Game 5 before Pujols' shot.

Earlier in the game, Pujols twice failed to deliver. He popped out to third with runners on first and second and none out in the first inning against Andy Pettitte, and struck out with runners on first and third and none out in the third.

Before the homer, the Cardinals' offense consisted of a two-run bloop single by Mark Grudzielanek in the third. Lidge opened the ninth with a pair of strikeouts before David Eckstein singled, Jim Edmonds walked and Pujols brought them home.

For once, the hitters rescued the pitchers.

Chris Carpenter was 4-0 with a 1.85 ERA against the Astros in the regular season and then beat them again in Game 1. But in the 263rd inning of a long, demanding season, the 21-game winner finally ran out of gas when he was victimized by Lance Berkman's short-porch, three-run homer that put the Astros ahead 4-2 in the seventh.

Though they're going home, the Cardinals still have issues. Larry Walker looks like a player who needs a fifth cortisone injection for his ailing neck, going 2-for-15 in the NLCS with one RBI. Edmonds, the team's No. 2 run producer with 89 RBIs in the regular season, has none in the NLCS.

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