Albert Pujols

Did Albert Pujols break Brad Lidge in the 2005 NLCS?

With one swing of the bat against Astros closer Brad Lidge, Albert Pujols won the game and extended the Cardinals’ season (and the life of Busch Stadium III) by a game. He may even have broken Lidge in the process.

On October 17, 2005, Pujols’ ninth-inning home run off the Astros’ dominant closer gave the Cardinals a 5-4 win in Game 5 of the NLCS. Though Houston won Game 6 to clinch the series, the moment remains one of the most electrifying in Cardinals postseason history. After Lidge struggled in the World Series and the 2006 season, many fans and sportswriters wondered aloud whether Pujols’ home run had knocked Lidge from his perch as arguably the best closer in baseball.

Game 5 of the NLCS matched Cardinals starter Chris Carpenter, who would be named the 2005 Cy Young Award winner later that month, against the Astros’ Andy Pettitte, a 33-year-old southpaw who had enjoyed a 17-9 record and 2.39 ERA in his second season in Houston.

Though the Cardinals had to rally in the game’s final inning, they actually led most of the contest. After Craig Biggio hit an RBI single in the bottom of the second, the Cardinals answered in the third. David Eckstein and Jim Edmonds led off with singles before Pettitte struck out Pujols and Reggie Sanders. With two outs, Larry Walker drew a walk to load the bases for Mark Grudzielanek, who scored two runs with a single to right field.

Carpenter made the 2-1 lead hold up until the seventh. With one out, Biggio reached on an error by Cardinals third baseman Hector Luna, who was playing in place of the injured Scott Rolen. Chris Burke followed with a single to right field before Lance Berkman hit the first pitch he saw over the wall for a three-run homer.

Suddenly, the Astros had a 4-2 lead.

As the Cardinals prepared to take their final at-bats in the ninth inning, the Astros called upon Lidge to close out the game, as he had 42 times that season. Lidge had claimed the closer’s job in 2004, as he saved 29 games with a 1.90 ERA, numbers that were good enough to place eighth in that year’s Cy Young Award voting.

In 2005, he cemented his place among baseball’s best relievers, earning the first all-star appearance of his career. In seven appearances against the Cardinals, Lidge was dominant, holding them scoreless with an .087 batting average.

At first, that appeared unlikely to change, as Lidge struck out the first two batters he faced, John Rodriguez and John Mabry. Eckstein was down to his last strike with a 1-2 count before he singled to left.

“I was just thinking, ‘Let Jimmy just hit a ball out of the park to tie the game or get a base hit,’” Pujols said. “I was like, ‘Jimmy, you either hit it out or give me a chance.’”[1]

Edmonds did exactly that, drawing a walk that brought Pujols to the plate and Astros manager Phil Garner out of the dugout for a mound visit.

On the first pitch, Lidge threw a devastating slider that dove out of the zone and nearly into the dirt. Pujols swung and missed. Ahead in the count 0-and-1, Lidge threw another slider. This one caught too much of the outer half of the plate. Pujols pulled it, far beyond the left-field wall.

“When I hit it, it was like, ‘Wow. I don’t believe I did that,’” he said. “It’s the best hit I’ve had in my career. … You’re facing the best closer in the game. It doesn’t get any better than that.”[2]

“Pujols took the oxygen out of Minute Maid Park, leaving 43,470 fans speechless and unable to comprehend what they’d just witnessed, a baseball traveling so high and so far that it probably appeared on a tracking system at Houston-based NASA headquarters,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch columnist Bernie Miklasz wrote.[3]

“That wasn’t no Crawford Box homer, was it?” said Cardinals pitcher Matt Morris,[4] referring to Minute Maid Park’s left-field seats, where the 21-foot wall was just 315 feet away in the corner.

The ball actually cleared the Crawford Boxes and almost hit the train behind them.

“I was on the bench sitting between (Mark) Mulder and (Abraham) Nunez and I said, ‘Hit the train for a million bucks,’” Cardinals outfielder Larry Walker said. “I almost had to pay up.”[5]

In the bottom of the ninth, the Cardinals called upon their own closer, Jason Isringhausen, for a second inning of work. Isringhausen retired the side in order, getting Willy Taveras and Jose Vizcaino to ground out before Chris Burke flied out to right.

“The NLCS is coming back to St. Louis in one of the most dramatic fashions you could ever imagine,” Post-Dispatch columnist Bryan Burwell wrote. “It is coming back because Albert Pujols reminded everyone why he is the best player in baseball with the most theatrical three-run, game-winning, ninth-inning blast in the glorious postseason history of Cardinals baseball.”[6]

Isringhausen, who retired all six batters he faced, earned the win. Carpenter received no decision after allowing three earned runs and striking out six over seven innings.

“It’s terrible,” Garner said. “You’re high as a kite one minute. The mistake we made was walking Edmonds. You have to let Edmonds hit the ball in the next count. You can’t walk him. Brad knows that and that was a mistake.”[7]

Though the Astros went on to win Game 6, Pujols’ home run remained the defining moment of the series. Some of that was the drama of the moment, but some of that also was the fact that Pujols’ blast suddenly made the unhittable Lidge less intimidating.

“Needless to say, I didn’t feel great after that,” Lidge said. “I was a little bit shell-shocked. Like, ‘What just happened?’ I’d had a run of a lot of good games against the Cardinals up to that point, including the previous year in the postseason and some in this postseason. But then when he hit that, it was almost hard to wrap your head around, hard to believe for a little bit. We were all kind of collectively hanging our heads.”[8]

Lidge later credited catcher Brad Ausmus with helping to turn the Astros’ mental state around – not on the field of play, but on their flight back to St. Louis. About half an hour after takeoff, the pilot came onto the intercom with a line that came from the future major-league manager.

“He’s like, ‘If you look out to your left, you can see whatever, whatever. And if you look out to your right, we can see Albert Pujols’ home run still flying by,’” Lidge recalled.[9]

In Game 2 of the World Series against the White Sox, his first appearance since the Pujols home run, Lidge entered a tie game in the ninth inning and allowed a walk-off, game-winning home run to Scott Podsednik. Two nights later, he retired all four White Sox that he faced, striking out three. However, in Game 4, he took his third loss of the postseason, allowing an RBI single to Jermaine Dye in a 1-0 loss that clinched Chicago’s championship.

In 2006, Lidge saved 32 games but his ERA ballooned to a career-high 5.28 (Lidge’s 3.79 FIP and a 3.22 xFIP indicate that this likely was the product of bad luck and an inflated home run-to-fly ball rate). Lidge blamed his participation in the World Baseball Classic for disrupting his spring training and a loss of his mechanics, particularly a tendency to fly open with his shoulder.

“When you’re not having success, your mind opens up and you catch yourself listening to too many people,” Lidge said. “Sometimes I had conflicting advice. Everyone was telling me so many different things, so it was hard to filter who to take advice from and who not to.”[10]

With his mechanics corrected, Lidge went 5-3 with a 3.36 ERA and 19 saves in 2007.

After the season, Lidge and Eric Bruntlett were traded to the Phillies for Michael Bourn, Mike Costanzo, and Geoff Geary. In Philadelphia, Lidge returned to his previous all-star form, posting a 1.95 ERA and 92 strikeouts over 69 1/3 innings in 2008.

Lidge had an up-and-down tenure with the Phillies. He placed fourth in the Cy Young voting in 2008 but followed that performance with a 7.21 ERA in 2009. In 2010, he returned to form with a 2.96 ERA and 27 saves but was limited to just 19 1/3 innings and one save in 2011, his final year in Philadelphia.

Meanwhile, the Cardinals’ 2005 playoff run was just a precursor to their 2006 championship. Pujols, who was crowned the 2005 National League MVP just a few weeks after the homer off Lidge, won additional MVP trophies in 2008 and 2009. In 2011, he led the Cardinals to another World Series title.

Enjoy this post? Sign up below and get Cardinals history delivered directly to your inbox!

[1] Joe Strauss, “Ninth-inning clout lifts Redbirds,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, October 18, 2005.

[2] Joe Strauss, “Ninth-inning clout lifts Redbirds,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, October 18, 2005.

[3] Bernie Miklasz, “For Houston, Pujols’ HR is a wrecking ball,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, October 18, 2005.

[4] Bernie Miklasz, “For Houston, Pujols’ HR is a wrecking ball,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, October 18, 2005.

[5] Joe Strauss, “Ninth-inning clout lifts Redbirds,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, October 18, 2005.

[6] Bryan Burwell, “Do you believe in miracles? You ought to,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, October 18, 2005.

[7] Joe Strauss, “Ninth-inning clout lifts Redbirds,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, October 18, 2005.

[8] Josh Criswell, “Brad Lidge shares hilarious story from infamous Albert Pujols home run,” Houston Chronicle, September 19, 2023,

[9] Josh Criswell, “Brad Lidge shares hilarious story from infamous Albert Pujols home run,” Houston Chronicle, September 19, 2023,

[10] Associated Press, “Lidge ready to shake off 2006,” Orange Leader, March 20, 2007.