When the music blared through the speakers at Minute Maid Park, thumping and grating over 43,470 pairs of ears, the game was over, the pennant was won, and the Houston Astros were going to the World Series. Brad Lidge, Houston's fearsome and forceful closer, entered to his chosen music, "The Game" by the heavy metal band Disturbed, indicating that he would finish things off, because that is exactly what he does against the St. Louis Cardinals each and every time.
"I was getting ready to run out on the field just like everyone else was in the dugout," Houston reliever Mike Gallo said, "because we had that game."
When Lidge, handed a two-run lead in the ninth inning of Game 5 of the National League Championship Series, struck out pinch hitter John Rodriguez, the Astros had that game. When he followed with a strikeout of pinch hitter John Mabry, the Astros had that game. They had Lidge, and that was enough.
"We have so much confidence in the guy," Gallo said. "And we still do."
The Astros said such things, wide-eyed and disbelieving, after Game 5 because the surest thing in baseball -- Lidge against the Cardinals -- went the other way. Houston's stud closer allowed a ground ball single to David Eckstein, a walk to Jim Edmonds, and a monstrous, series-saving home run to Albert Pujols, the ingredients in a 5-4 Cardinals' victory that will always be remembered for Lidge's collapse, so unexpected.
"It's unfortunate that it happened," Lidge said, his voice loud, not shying away from the blame. "But tomorrow, it's going to be gone. If I thought any other way, I wouldn't be closing."
Lidge dutifully explained how he hung a 1-0 slider to the powerful Pujols, who launched it on a majestic arc deep to left field, a no-doubt-about-it shot that changed the nature of the postseason. That Pujols came through with the hit that prolonged the series was hardly shocking, considering his enormous ability. That it came against Lidge was nothing short of stunning.
On May 29, 2003, Lidge gave up three runs to the Cardinals, and no one took much note. He wasn't yet a star, still a year from taking over the closer's role. But when he made his next appearance against the Cardinals that September, he began a remarkable streak. In 22 appearances spanning 291/3 innings, he didn't allow a run, and the Cardinals managed just six hits, a batting average of .065.
But earlier in the NLCS, there appeared a chink. Mabry hit an RBI double off Lidge in Game 3, something of a confidence booster in the Astros' 4-3 win.
And then, the shocking events of Monday, when Lidge was one good pitch to Pujols away from bringing the pennant to Houston. He got Pujols to flail at a slider in the dirt for strike one. Then, "I tried to repeat the same pitch," Lidge said. Pujols nailed it. The series is now different, as are, perhaps, the Cardinals' feelings about Houston's closer.
If the Astros have a lead in Game 6 on Wednesday, Lidge will be called upon again. At Busch Stadium, there will be no Disturbed pumping through the speakers. Still, he could draw on the familiar lyrics.
"Tell me exactly what am I supposed to do
Now that I have allowed you to beat me
Do you think that we could play another game?
Maybe I could win this time"
"If I get out there again," Lidge said, "I'll have the confidence I can get it done."