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Astros walk off with NLCS lead
10/18/2004 10:15 PM ET
HOUSTON -- Jeff Kent remembered watching Albert Pujols knock what turned out to be the game-winning home run last week in St. Louis. He also remembered watching Boston's David Ortiz launch a two-run, walk-off blast Sunday night in the wee hours of the morning, keeping the Red Sox's ALCS playoff hopes alive against the New York Yankees for at least one more day.

Both times, Kent wanted to experience that euphoria himself. He even went as far as to say that for a couple of fleeting moments, he actually wanted to be Pujols and Ortiz.

"That's the little kid in me," Kent said. "Wanting to be other people that play this game."

Kent got his wish Monday night, when his three-run blast in the ninth inning off Jason Isringhausen broke a scoreless tie and sent the Houston Astros to a 3-0 win over the St. Louis Cardinals in Game 5 of the National League Championship Series.

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In that respect, this didn't exactly mirror Pujols, whose homer propelled the Cards to a Game 2 win. Or Ortiz, whose team was on the brink of a four-game sweep at the hands of the Yankees.

Kent's moment arguably was better. This win, Houston's 22nd in 23 home games, pushed the Astros to within one game of reaching the World Series for the first time in franchise history.

While Kent could never have predicted a home run, the scenario leading up to his at-bat was pretty much in line with how he envisioned it. Carlos Beltran led off with a base hit to right, and with a 2-2 count on Lance Berkman, Beltran stole second.

That prompted Isringhausen to intentionally walk Berkman, bringing Kent into an all-too familiar situation.

Facts machine
Five sluggers have ended NLCS games with walk-off home runs, all in the bottom of the ninth:
Slugger Game Vs.
Johnny Bench, CINGame 1, Oct. 6, 1973NYM
Steve Garvey, SDGame 4, Oct. 6, 1984CHC
Ozzie Smith, STLGame 5, Oct. 14, 1985LA
Lenny Dykstra, NYMGame 3, Oct. 11, 1986HOU
Jeff Kent, HOUGame 5, Oct. 18, 2004STL

"I learned when I was with San Francisco to kind of count down," said Kent, who played for the Giants in the 2002 World Series. "The leadoff guy gets on, he probably steals, base open for Barry [Bonds], they walk Barry. So, you kind of count down and kind of figure it. I was ready for it."

He was also ready for the first-pitch cutter, which, according to Isringhausen, "didn't cut much." And Kent deposited it into the left-field stands.

"A no-doubter, walk-off, 'how-you-doin' ... this is what baseball's all about," Morgan Ensberg said. "Right there. Here's a guy with how many years of experience, and World Series experience. But more than that, he's a guy that's got an idea. If guys miss, he is going to hit the ball and he's going to hit it hard.

"This is just fairy-tale stuff right there. A walk-off home run. I'm pumped for the guy. I'm happy for our team, but I'm really happy for him."

Berkman, standing on first, was hoping just for a textbook base hit.

"I was thinking, just bloop something somewhere," he said. "That's a good spot to be in. Whenever you get a man on second base. Really, I think the key was Carlos stealing second. It forced the Cardinals' hand a little bit. And J.K. came through."

Said Jeff Bagwell: "That's probably as happy as I've felt, ever, in my career, on a walk-off home run. It was a heck of a moment. I just want to continue to ride this thing."

Kent's homer ended what was a pitchers' duel from the start. For Brandon Backe, Monday was the game of his life. For Woody Williams, it was just another stellar performance at Minute Maid Park, one of many the Houston native enjoyed since joining the Cardinals in August 2001.

Facts machine
The Astros have slugged 23 home runs in the 2004 postseason through Game 4 of the NLCS:
Date HR Players Result
Oct. 64Ausmus, Berkman, Beltran and LaneW 9-3
Oct. 72Bagwell and ChavezL 4-2
Oct. 91BeltranW 8-5
Oct. 101BiggioL 6-5
Oct. 113Beltran (2) and BagwellW 12-3
Oct. 134Beltran, Kent, Berkman, LambL 10-7
Oct. 142Beltran, EnsbergL 6-4
Oct. 163Kent, Beltran, BerkmanW 5-2
Oct. 172Berkman, BeltranW 6-5
Oct. 181KentW 3-0
The Astros are now second in NL postseason history behind the 2002 Giants, who slugged 27 homers, tops in Major League history.

And both pitchers completely halted what had been a power-laden NLCS.

Backe, making his 12th big league start and third of the postseason, held the Cardinals hitless through 5 2/3 innings, the longest no-hit streak to begin a game in NLCS history. Tony Womack broke up the no-hit bid with a base hit to right.

Williams yielded a first-inning single to Bagwell and surrendered nothing more than two walks and a hit batsman for the next six.

"It was an emotional struggle for the offensive players on both sides," Kent said. "Just a phenomenal job by our pitchers, doing a match in shutting guys down.

"To have two pitchers to come out and match zeroes just about every inning is frustrating for a player. It's very frustrating. When that happens, you come late in a ballgame and one pitch, one play is going to determine the ballgame."

This time, it worked in the Astros' favor. Closer Brad Lidge threw nine pitches to retire the top of the order in the ninth, leaving the game scoreless going into the last three outs of regulation. Kent made sure Lidge wasn't overextended this time.

"I was thrilled to death that Kent hit that three-run home run and obviously [we] didn't have to go out for the 10th," Lidge said. "It just seems like things are working out when we play at home."

While it's obvious the Astros believe in themselves, they don't want to talk about destiny or fate or any of the intangibles that might be helping them through this postseason. At least not until they win one more game.

"I certainly do love this team, I really do," Bagwell said. "I'm having a heck of a time watching it and being a part of it."

This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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