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10/18/05 3:32 AM ET

Astros left stunned by turn of events

Houston was one strike from first trip to World Series

HOUSTON -- Brad Lidge will go down in baseball history with the relievers who came so close to ultimate victory and couldn't nail it down. Donnie Moore, Lee Smith, Tom Niedenfuer, Felix Rodriguez and even the great Mariano Rivera at the end of the 2001 World Series.

They all share one common bond. They had a pennant or a championship in the balance and couldn't hold on.

"I'd be lying, this is a blow," said Andy Pettitte, who started Monday's Game 5 for the Astros and was on the bench when Albert Pujols took Lidge deep with the three-run, ninth-inning homer that brought the Cardinals back from the dead in the National League Championship Series with a 5-4 win. "I put a lot of pressure on myself [in Game 5], because I wanted to get it done here. For the city. To be able to do it here.

"I wanted to get it done for this team and this organization. We weren't able to get it done. So it ranks right up there with the toughest losses I've ever been involved in."

Pettitte was a Yankee in 2001 when they went back to Arizona with a 3-2 lead and couldn't win another game. He started Game 6, was hammered in a 15-2 loss, and was in the dugout when Rivera couldn't hold a 2-1 lead in the ninth inning of Game 7 as the Diamondbacks scored twice to win the series.

On Monday, Lidge had two out and the bases empty in the ninth and a 1-2 count on David Eckstein. The crowd of 43,470 was pulsating in anticipation of celebrating the Astros' maiden pennant. Somehow, Eckstein reached out and pulled a slider away on the ground into left field for a single. Eckstein strolled down to second base without a contest. Jim Edmonds walked on five pitches.

Pujols swung and missed at Lidge's first offering, and then slammed a slider that hung in his wheel house into the railroad tracks high above the wall in left-center.

"You're not trying to walk Edmonds there, but that was the key at bat of the inning," Lidge said. "I tried to make some pitches inside, but they were too much inside so I wound up walking him. I still had confidence I could get Pujols out. I just made a bad pitch to him. That's what he does. That's why he's so good.

"This is tough. This will sting a little bit tonight, but [Tuesday], I'll wake up and put it behind me. That's my job as a closer."

Smith was with the Cubs in 1984 when he couldn't hold off the Padres in Game 4 of the NLCS at San Diego as Steve Garvey beat him with a walk-off homer. The Padres came back from a 2-0 deficit to win that series in five games.

Niedenfuer served up the three-run, ninth-inning Game 6 homer to Jack Clark at Dodger Stadium, costing the Dodgers a series-tying victory and giving St. Louis the 1985 NL pennant.

In 1986, during the ninth inning of Game 5 at Anaheim, the late Donnie Moore pitched to Boston's Dave Henderson with the Angels just one out away from their first pennant. Henderson hit a two-run homer, and the Angels lost the game in extra innings. The series went back to Boston and the Red Sox trounced the Angels, 18-5, in the last two games. It was Gene Mauch's last shot as manager to win a pennant.

Moore never got over it and committed suicide in 1989. Mauch died earlier this year.

In 2002, the Giants were leading, 5-0, in Game 6 at Anaheim and were eight outs away from winning their first World Series since 1954. Manager Dusty Baker pulled starter Russ Ortiz and replaced him with Rodriguez, who allowed Scott Spiezio's three-run homer. Tim Worrell completed the damage by allowing three more in the eighth. The Angels won their first World Series in seven games.

Pettitte said it's tough to compare the World Series loss with Monday's fiasco.

Astros one strike away
With two outs and two strikes in the ninth, Astros closer Brad Lidge allowed the Cards to rally and take Game 5.
1-2, 2 outsDavid EcksteinSingle
1-0, 2 outsJim EdmondsEckstein advanced to 2B
3-1, 2 outsEdmondsWalk
0-1, 2 outsAlbert PujolsThree-run homer

"That was it, the last game," Pettitte said about the 2001 loss. "If we didn't have the two games left, this would definitely have been a lot worse. But we still have a chance."

Monday's game had all the twists and turns of a classic.

The Cards took a 2-1 lead in the third inning off Pettitte. The switch-hitting Lance Berkman went the opposite way into the Crawford boxes with a three-run, seventh-inning homer off the Cardinals' Chris Carpenter that gave the Astros a 4-2 lead, which seemed to be enough of an advantage to capture the series.

"We went from high to low, it wasn't much fun," Berkman said. "The 3-2 series lead is just fine. I'm sure that's what we'll say [Tuesday]. But right now, this is just devastating. We were going to the World Series. We were there."

Barry M. Bloom is a national reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.