Game balls: Rating Game 610/20/2004 9:09 PM ET
By Jason Beck / MLB.com
MLB.com is awarding "game balls" -- or, in this case, cowboy boots -- as the boys from Houston so often wear -- and arches -- to represent St. Louis as the Gateway to the West -- for performances in this year's National League Championship Series. Here's a look at who is at the top of the arch and who is feeling like kicking themselves after the Redbirds' thrilling walk-off Game 6 win.
Five cowboy boots: Freshly shined and a perfect fit, ready for some serious two-stepping
Four cowboy boots: The first choice for a night on the town
Three cowboy boots: A few scuff marks, but no one will notice
Two cowboy boots: Showing serious signs of wear
One cowboy boot: Somebody stepped in something
Brad Lidge: Eventually, he has to wear out. Just not yet. After five innings over three games in Houston, a day's rest was enough for Lidge to go three innings once the game was tied. He dominated again, hitting 95 mph on his fastball in his final inning. Only this time, it was Lidge's movement that had hitters guessing. The next test could come if the Astros take a lead into the late innings of Game 7.
Carlos Beltran: Does this guy ever hit a bloop single? Beltran barely missed what would've been his record-setting ninth home run of the postseason -- twice. Both times, the ball hit hard off the right-field wall, with Larry Walker's strong arm holding him to two long singles. Beltran's speed and baserunning instincts earned him a run anyway on the first one when he alertly read the odd bounce into left-center on Jeff Bagwell's shot inside third base. He's a game-changer in so many different ways, it's hard to stop them all.
Chad Qualls/Dan Wheeler: This game could've easily ended up a St. Louis rout the way the Cardinals were hitting Pete Munro's pitches early. But after Chad Harville struck out Mike Matheny and Matt Morris to end the third, Qualls and Wheeler combined for five innings of scoreless relief on five hits with five strikeouts. Without a redeeming outing from Houston's much-critiqued middle relief, this game had no chance of going into extra innings.
Jeff Bagwell: Intentionally walking Beltran to pitch to Bagwell? Ouch -- for the Cardinals. He didn't have to crush Jason Isringhausen's first-pitch fastball to extend this game, only line it to left deep enough to send Morgan Ensberg home. All three of Bagwell's hits went to left field in different varieties -- the aforementioned liner, a first-inning bloop single and a bizarre grounder down the line that hit the stands and bounced towards center.
Brad Ausmus: He wasn't around when the game was finally decided, but Ausmus' quick feet in the fourth inning kept Houston's deficit at a run. It wasn't enough for the 35-year-old backstop to range to his left and field an off-target throw from Jose Vizcaino on Scott Rolen's double; he had to dash back towards home plate just quickly enough to get his glove on the back of a sliding Albert Pujols. Ausmus has always been known as a defensive catcher, but plays like that normally don't fall under the definition.
Five arches: On top of the world
Pete Munro: The Cardinals sat on his breaking stuff and slapped far more sharp hits than easy groundouts. That included a pretty good sinker low and outside that Albert Pujols dove over the plate for and homered to left. Munro's ability to limit the damage on his hits allowed will come up again if the Astros reach the World Series.
Four arches: Clear view down-river
Three arches: Walker underneath
Two arches: Saw it in the guidebook
One arch: I thought you said St. Paul
Julian Tavarez: Good pitching forgives many transgressions. He's lighter in the wallet after the infamous Game 5 blowup in the dugout, but his pitching showed no effect from those broken bones in his glove hand. Manager Tony La Russa's choice to go with Isringhausen for three innings raised the question whether Tavarez would spend the rest of the postseason in the doghouse. He didn't need long to escape.
Albert Pujols: He scored half of the Cardinals' runs, including the game-winner. It would've been a five-arch outing had he not run through third-base coach Jose Oquendo's stop sign and been thrown out at the plate in the fourth. Fortunately, Pujols is faster to first base than he is to home, as he showed to slide to the bag and barely beat Beltran for the first out of the 12th inning. Pujols isn't Tony Womack, but he's fast for his position.
Jim Edmonds: His first-inning single was his first hit since homering in Game 3, which was enough for him to say he was in a slump. But Edmonds isn't slumping enough to forget what to do with a high fastball. With one swing, Edmonds became the Game 6 hero with a 12th-inning homer, and improved his batting average to .286 for the series.
Edgar Renteria: He pounded out three hits, including a two-hit single up the middle in the third inning. Just as important, Renteria pounced on virtually every ball hit in his direction, especially into the hole. His work turning a high throw from pitcher Ray King into a sixth-inning double play was yet another highlight. Renteria again showed why the Redbirds' left side of the infield is the best in baseball.
Matt Morris: He never really looked all that comfortable on the mound until his final inning of work, but Morris likely would've ended up with a quality start had his spot in the order not come up in the bottom of the fifth. He might have allowed just two runs on the day if not for the bad bounce on Bagwell's hit down the line.
Jason Isringhausen: The bad news is he couldn't hold the lead in the ninth. The good news is that Isringhausen kept it tied instead of falling apart after Bagwell's game-tying hit. He struck out Lance Berkman with the go-ahead run on third base, then retired the side in order in the 10th after Mike Lamb's drive to center died at the warning track. It's a blown save, but three innings from a closer who leaves with the game tied isn't nearly a disaster.
This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.