10/16/05 9:00 PM ET
Astros turn two in dramatic ending
Double play by Bruntlett and Everett ends Game 4
By Thomas Harding / MLB.com
The lucky ones who get to play the role of the Houston Astros' shortstop were trying to act out his part, down to the giddy reaction, which finished Sunday's scintillating double play to end Game 4 of the National League Championship Series and put the Houston Astros one game from their first World Series.
Gotta do the deft pivot, leap and throw. Gotta get the giddy reaction just right -- body turned toward center field with fist extended, big smile over the right shoulder. The kid that plays the part of second baseman Eric Bruntlett has an even tougher job, imitating the footwork after fielding the grounder by St. Louis' John Mabry and the max-velocity throw to Everett covering the bag.
The teamwork that locked up the Astros' 2-1 victory over the St. Louis Cardinals will be replayed on video, DVD and the World Wide Web, and pantomimed by kids on playgrounds and in their rooms -- heck, probably adults in parking lots, in their offices, maybe even alone in their homes -- for a long time.
But the two guys admit they would have a hard time doing it again if they tried.
"That's a once-in-a-lifetime thing," Everett said. "That's the best double play I've ever turned."
Bruntlett said, "Everything had to be right on. There couldn't be anything off. I had to get rid of it as quick as I could. Adam had to have basically a perfect play, and then we barely got him. Maybe we couldn't do it again."
The double play concluded some late-game defense that was positively magical.
But it was more than that. Manager Phil Garner used key substitutions to have the right players on the field. The players themselves knew the situations so well that they could react, rather than think. In other words, magic was the result of preparation.
Garner put speedy Willy Taveras in as a pinch-runner at third with the bases loaded in the seventh. Taveras scored the go-ahead run easily on a sacrifice fly, and his speed turned into an even bigger asset when he climbed the center-field terrace to chase down John Rodriguez's deep fly to end the eighth with a runner at first.
With runners at first and third and no outs in the bottom of the ninth, third baseman Morgan Ensberg noted, "The thinking kind of leaves the mind at that point." Yet when Reggie Sanders hit a slow grounder to Ensberg, he knew Albert Pujols would run to the inside of the base line, but still put a perfect throw over Pujols' shoulder to catcher Brad Ausmus.
Garner might have won the game at the start of the inning, not when he went to closer Brad Lidge, who spent the whole inning in trouble, but when he put Bruntlett at second base in place of Craig Biggio for defensive purposes. Bruntlett needed every bit of the quickness from his younger feet and strength from his shortstop's arm to make the play.
But some elements of the game-ending play could not have been planned.
The Sanders chopper certainly could have been foreseen. Rarely do hitters make solid contact on Lidge's fastball and slider. But the double-play grounder was another story.
Having runners at first and third was the result of an odd miscue in a game the Astros played cleanly otherwise. After the Astros cut down Pujols at the plate, Larry Walker sneaked from second to third when he noticed that umpires had not granted Houston time out.
After making the throw home, Ensberg sprinted back to his position with third base umpire and crew chief Tim McClelland near him.
"They did not see Morgan call time, and so nobody -- no umpire saw it, so I can't quibble with that," Garner said. "I just asked [home plate umpire] Phil [Cuzzi] if he had seen it, and I asked anybody else if they had seen it and they said if they had, they would have told me. So we didn't have much to stand on."
Also, Lidge had forced just one double play in the regular and postseason. He didn't think he had one on Sunday, when Mabry's ball bounced toward Bruntlett.
"At first I thought it may have been hit too slowly," Lidge said.
But Bruntlett had already prepared for his magic.
"I was thinking going for two the whole way," he said. "It was probably the toughest ball you're going to get the whole year to turn two on."
Everett, who didn't care that Sanders was bearing down on him ("If he got me, he got me"), could appreciate the degree of difficulty.
"Brunt just made a perfect feed to me," Everett said. "It seemed like it didn't even touch his glove, and he just fired it at me. It's the best feed he's given me all year. It was just perfect."
Those who watched it and cheered it have forever to get it perfect.
Thomas Harding is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.