When Adam Wainwright struck out Carlos Beltran to send the St. Louis Cardinals to the 2006 World Series, it was cinematic-like. The hero had finally gotten the best of the notorious nemesis. The moment still sends chills down the spine a decade later.
Earlier this week, it was looking back at Albert Pujols giving Houston a problem in 2005 against Brad Lidge, and this memory flips the matchup on its head.
Beltran had torn through the Cardinals in the postseason. Coming into that at bat, he was 18-50 with seven home runs in two playoff series. With the Astros in 2004, he collected 10 hits and 4 home runs. In the first six-plus games of that 2006 series, he had collected eight hits and three home runs.
It was a pair of gunslingers facing off. If Beltran got a hold of a pitch, the defense didn't matter. It was going to do damage. The Cards were up and the count was 0-2. A pitcher's count, even if something like that didn't really exist against Beltran, one of the best hitters in the league that year.
Tension flared through my bones like a fluid shooting through an IV at a hospital. The surge of emotions couldn't be denied. The Cards weren't supposed to win a thing that October. They backed into the playoffs. They weren't supposed to even beat the San Diego Padres, but Ronnie Belliard turned into Chase Utley for a few games.
Jeff Suppan shouldn't have been the Cards most valuable pitcher that postseason, but there he was hurling bone-rattling, suspenseful innings. Sure, he took forever between pitches and made up crazy words, but he was amazing under tension.
Scott Rolen hit a fly ball that Endy Chavez denied the VISA on before it could sail into the trusted waters of home run lane. In the eighth, Chavez would watch a Yadier Molina home run go too far for his glove to matter. Wainwright came in and it was on.
Beltran was a Jedi at the plate. The man didn't move an inch more than he had to. His swing wasn't as sweet as Ken Griffey Jr.'s but man it was compact and precise. If Waino made a mistake, the pitch would be launched into the heart of New York. He would be swallowed by the Big Apple and the Cardinals would get the message loud and clear. "We told you so."
Instead, Wainwright froze the man on a curve that Rick Ankiel would nod his head in approval at. It was deadly. Beltran guessed wrong and the Mets were gone.
I watched the historical moment with a good friend. We worked on the Manual Scoreboard together at the old Busch and saw a lot of cool memories. The Big Mac ride. The birth of Pujols-mania. Rolen taking down Clemens. Edmonds rocking St. Louis. Todd Stottlemeyer's sweat gland eruption. This was different.
Does it compare to David Freese sending the Texas Rangers back to their hotels in misery five years later? Maybe. Does it rank as one of the greatest moments in Cardinal history? You bet. When it happened, there were feathers in my chest and tickling down my throat. My feet were lighter. Any problems I had slipped away for a while, like a pain-killer suddenly kicking in to assist your immune system recover. Simply amazing.
Beltran would eventually join the Cards and fail in a couple postseason missions. He would later join the New York Yankees and Texas Rangers. He still sits without a World Series title. In 195 career at bats in the postseason, Beltran owns a .323 batting average, .432 on base percentage, and .646 slugging percentage. He hits 16 home runs, with nearly half coming against St. Louis. For one at bat on one chilly night up east, Wainwright denied him.
10 years later, that moment stands tall. In 30 years, the feeling will remain the same. Enjoy it below.
The Cardinals may not be playing this October, but the good thing about great franchises is that the highlight reel is always chock full of goodness to revisit.