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Albert Pujols and the legendary blast that should never have happened

Mar 16, 2010, 12:27 AM EDT

lidge-100315.jpgI remember when I first realized that Albert Pujols was GREAT. I already knew he was great, mind you, but there came a time when the simple lower-case modifier was no longer good enough to describe the St. Louis Cardinals slugger. Sort of like calling the Grand Canyon big, or the Pacific Ocean wet, it didn’t quite measure up.

Anyway, the moment when Pujols became GREAT for me came in Game 5 of the 2005 NLCS, when he slugged a game-winning home run of such Hobbs-ian proportions that it nearly derailed not only the train at Minute Maid Park, but Brad Lidge’s career along with it.

Lidge was filthy that night, with high-90s gas, a high-80s breaking ball and a bucket-full of confidence. But Pujols changed that with one effortless, violent flick of his wrists. It’s not a wonder it took Lidge three years to recover.

[For those of you with a fuzzy memory, you can relive the moment here. As for Astros fans, you may comfort yourselves in knowing that your team eventually advanced to the World Series despite Pujols' heroics. Then, you may cry yourselves to sleep knowing it's not going to happen again anytime soon.]

Morgan Ensberg, the third baseman on that Astros team, gives readers some insight into that game in his blog – which is quickly becoming a must-read. In a post on Monday, Ensberg writes that Pujols shouldn’t have had the chance to play hero in that game, that if he had been positioned properly at third base, Pujols would not have even come up to bat.

In the ninth inning, Lidge started out by striking out John Rodriguez and John Mabry, with leadoff hitter David Eckstein coming to the plate. A light-hitting contact hitter, Eckstein was simply looking to get on base and was highly unlikely to pull the ball down the line. Ensberg, recalling this, says he was positioned too close to the line by manager Phil Garner.

But you should know that there is a optical illusion at Minute Maid Park. Phil Garner (manager) sits in the first chair of the dugout protected by the handicap elevator in the first base dugout. From his vantage point, it looks like the third baseman is directly inline with him.  However, the view from the third baseman’s vantage point is off to the left by about 5 feet. This is a problem.

Garner is lining me up according to the spray chart, but I am not where he thinks he is moving me.  I am actually closer to the line then he would want due to the illusion but there is nothing that can be done.  From his view I am in the exact spot that I need to be.

Eckstein ends up singling into the hole past Ensberg, Jim Edmonds follows with a walk and Pujols makes history. Baseball, ladies and gentlemen, is a game of details.

If Phil’s view wasn’t off-set, I could have made the play and the game would have been over. [Instead] Lidge throws a fast ball that Eckstein hits in the 5-6 hole for a base hit.
Two batters later, Pujols makes history and there is no optical illusion involved there at all.

Ensberg gives some other interesting details in his post, so go head on over and check it out. I find it fascinating how the simplest of mistakes can change the course of baseball history. But seeing as how in this instance Pujols gave baseball fans such an unforgettable moment, I’m perfectly OK with how things turned out.

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  1. Dan Whitney - Mar 16, 2010 at 12:57 AM

    Fantastic article. Morgan Ensberg’s blog is quickly getting up there alongside Curtis Granderson’s and Doug Glanville’s as far as the player perspective.

  2. Stone - Mar 16, 2010 at 1:23 AM

    That was an epic home run.

  3. RobRob - Mar 16, 2010 at 8:55 AM

    What if what if what if…

    What if there’s no 5-6 hole and Eckstein and his scrappy bat slap one to the right side?

    What if he bunts down the line?

    What if Ensberg had more range?

    What this really illustrates is how awesome baseball is because there’s no clock. You need to get 27 outs, and it doesn’t matter if you’re down 3 with two outs in the ninth. The leading team cannot simply hold the ball and wait for the clock to tick down. They have to get that 27th out to win the game.

  4. salvo - Mar 16, 2010 at 10:24 AM

    Man, I love the immediate reaction of the crowd behind home plate: the little kid throws his arms up over his head, a woman;s face transforms into a mask of agony… I remember wtaching it at the time how unbelievably loud the park was before that pitch, and how it was reduced to a grim, low chattering with one swing…

  5. Joe - Mar 16, 2010 at 12:54 PM

    What I find most interesting here is that Phil Garner had managed > 100 games in that ballpark at the time, and didn’t realize that there was this “optical illusion” with regard to the positioning of his third baseman. You’d think it would have come up a couple of times over that time.

  6. Dennis - Mar 16, 2010 at 1:25 PM

    Wow….what if Pujols doesn’t hit that home run? Does Brad Lidge not go in the tank and ultimately get traded to the Phillies where is perfection in 2008 helped them to a World Series?

  7. Fast Eddy - Mar 16, 2010 at 1:37 PM

    You are right on the money. I saw that HR on the T-V. I have written before that this was the begining of the end for Lidge. He has never been the same pitcher, except for part of the 08 season. There is an old saying about if’s and buts. It applies here.

  8. Nicole - Mar 16, 2010 at 5:18 PM

    I was at that game and I can tell you it was horrible. The noise level going into Pujol’s at bat was unlike anything I’ve ever heard, but as soon as he made contact everyone knew it was gone and the stadium fell silent. I just re-watched the clip and my stomach dropped all over again. Lidge may have rebounded somewhat with the Phillies, but his career in Houston ended with that pitch.

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