The 2004 regular season ended with the St. Louis Cardinals winning 105 games, while the Houston Astros squeaked past the San Francisco Giants by one game and into the wild-card spot on the last day of the season. Though the Cardinals had won the National League Central Division by 13 games over Houston, many experts believed the National League Championship Series to be evenly matched. After five games, the experts seemed to hit the bull’s eye, as the home team had won every game. Thus the Astros led the series 3 games to 2.
As the series shifted back to St. Louis, many believed the Astros had the momentum given the drama of Jeff Kent’s Game Five walkoff home run. The sixth game had everything on the line: if Houston won the Astros would be going to the franchise’s first World Series; and the Cardinals wanted to regain their role as National League royalty. Since Tony La Russa became the Cardinals manager in 1996, they had made it to the NLCS three times. Each time the Cardinals came up empty-handed.
Heading into the sixth game, the pitching matchup heavily favored the Cardinals, who had Matt Morris on the mound. In his start against the Astros in the second game, he had given up six hits and three runs in five innings. During the regular season, Morris had a 3.08 ERA against the Astros and a record of 2-1. The Astros had their second game starter, Pete Munro, pitching the potential clincher. Munro had pitched in 21 games during the regular season and posted a 5.15 ERA with a 4-7 record.
In the early stages of the game the teams appeared to be evenly matched, with the momentum still up for grabs. In the bottom of the third inning, that changed in the Cardinals’ favor as they knocked Munro out of game. He had given up eight hits and four runs, all earned, over 2? innings. Morris’s outing, meanwhile, appeared eerily similar to his Game Two start, when he pitched five innings and gave up five hits and three runs. In this game, Morris left for a pinch-hitter with the Cardinals leading 4-3.
With both starting pitchers out of the game, a chess match began for Houston’s manager Phil Garner and St. Louis’s La Russa. Each manager worked his bullpen perfectly to get the ball to the closer. Jason Isringhausen, the Cardinals closer, needed three outs in the top of the ninth to send the series to a decisive seventh game. The fans were on their feet, cheering, and waving their rally towels wishing for a three-up, three-down inning. It wasn’t to be. The Houston Astros tied the game, 4-4, as Isringhausen hit Morgan Ensberg (who was sacrificed to second), intentionally walked Carlos Beltran, then gave up a tying RBI single to Jeff Bagwell.
In the bottom of the ninth, Astros closer Brad Lidge set the Cardinals down in order. Lidge then proved his dominance by retiring the Cardinals in order in the 10th and 11th innings. The Cardinals’ relievers, Jason Isringhuasen and Julian Tavarez, matched Lidge, setting down the Astros in order in the 10th through the 12th.
The chess match continued into the bottom of the 12th. The Cardinals had their 3-4-5 hitters coming up to bat. Albert Pujols, Scott Rolen, and Jim Edmonds were the heart of the club. Dan Miceli came into pitch for the Astros. In Game Two he had given up home runs to Pujols and Rolen in one inning.
Jim Hickey, the Astros pitching coach, said of the decision to use Miceli for the 12th: “[Roy] Oswalt was in the bullpen for the sixth game. Roy was ready to go. He was actually going to come in during the game. He was ready in the 11th inning and he felt good. I remember looking at Gar [Phil Garner] as the 11th inning ended and I said, ‘You know, Roy is ready.’ He said, ‘Miceli’s in the game.’ I didn’t argue.”1
Miceli walked Pujols on four pitches to start the inning. Rolen swung on the first pitch to him and popped it up to the catcher. Edmonds stepped in and on Miceli’s second pitch to him, he hit a towering shot to right field, landing just past the Cardinals’ bullpen. Edmonds sent Busch Stadium into pandemonium and the series into a decisive seventh game. Reflecting later on the moment, Edmonds said, “I think you always dream about being in that situation. You never know how you’re going to react until it happens. It was a weird reaction for me. When you’re in that situation and you’re actually in the game, you know anything can go wrong with one pitch.”2
La Russa remembered, “It kept us alive. I can remember just the joy of it, that we were going to get one more chance, and it’s not over.”3 The Astros tried to quickly forget and move on to preparing for the seventh game. A frustrated Jeff Kent, however, commented, “Personally, I don’t have anything against Edmonds. But I do not like him, as an opponent, because of things like that. Because of the home run.”4
The momentum of a series can turn with one swing of the bat. Jeff Kent had swung the momentum the Astros’ way after his three-run walkoff blast in the fifth game. In the sixth game, Edmonds swung it back the Cardinals way. Who would be the hero in the seventh and final game of the series to swing his team to the World Series?
On Wednesday, October 20, 2004, I sat in my eighth-grade classroom bored out of my mind while probably learning something of importance. Thankfully, the secretary of the school came on the intercom, asking me to come to the office. My father was waiting there when I arrived. I could not contain my excitement when he told me we were heading to Game Six. Over the course of three hours and 54 minutes, I experienced every emotion from heartbreak to feeling on top of the world. When I think back to the postseason games I’ve witnessed, this game immediately comes to mind. Even in 2014, the St. Louis Cardinals play the video of Jim Edmonds’ walkoff home run. I still get chills remembering that moment. The love and passion I have for the St. Louis Cardinals only increased after October 20, 2004. From this moment I knew I would love, live, and breathe Cardinals baseball.
1 Alyson Footer, “The 2004 NLCS: Forgotten Classic,” http://sportsonearth.com/article/98593970/nlcs-2004-carlos-beltran-albert-pujols-jim-edmonds-oral-history.