Game balls: Rating Game 510/19/2004 12:34 AM 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 Astros' thrilling Game 5 win.
Five arches: On top of the world
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
Woody Williams: In just about any other postseason game the Cardinals have played this year, that performance would've been the headline. But since rookie Brandon Backe matched Williams, it ended up being more like a footnote. Williams didn't allow a hit after Jeff Bagwell's two-out single in the opening inning and just five of his pitches required a play by an outfielder. Williams escaped time and again after falling behind in the count until his final inning of work required merely five pitches. He's the Cardinals ace this series, and he pitched like it.
Scott Rolen: Four ground balls hit his way, four outs, including a diving stop and throw from his knees that took away a potential leadoff double in the fourth. Rolen didn't hit the ball out of the infield this game, but he didn't let any ball he could reach get out, either.
Reggie Sanders: Carlos Beltran's diving grab to end the top of the seventh earned seemingly 100 replays. Sanders' lunging catch to rob Jeff Kent leading off the bottom half of the inning was replayed once, leaving at least a few viewers with a DVR looking for the rewind button during next commercial break. Sanders also had the best drive off a St. Louis bat, a deep launch to straightaway center that died on Tal's Hill. Sanders' game won't be remembered, but it's another example why he keeps finding his way onto so many playoff teams.
Tony Womack: He had the Cardinals' only hit in the sixth despite swinging at a 2-0 pitch and going to 2-2. Womack swung aggressively his next at-bat in the ninth and lost the gamble, grounding out on Brad Lidge's first pitch. Another leadoff man might've made Lidge work, especially in Lidge's fifth inning over three days, but that might've been Womack's best chance to see a pitch to hit.
Jason Isringhausen: He didn't look sharp from the start of that fateful ninth inning, though finding a comfort zone can't be easy to do when Beltran is leading off the inning. Isringhausen's never been known for holding runners on base well, and he threw over to first three times to keep Beltran honest, but he didn't do it again after getting Bagwell to a 1-2 count. Bagwell flew out to bring up Lance Berkman, who worked to a 2-2 count when Beltran swiped second. Isringhausen then issued the intentional walk to Berkman, setting up Kent for that first pitch Isringhausen undoubtedly wishes he could have back.
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
Brandon Backe: When a rookie pitcher's only mistake all night is missing on a bunt attempt, he's done all right. You kept waiting for the adrenaline to wear off and for close outs to turn into hits, but it only happened once. Instead, Backe enjoyed that kind of game that turns a young pitcher into a rising star every hitter knows about the following year. Backe seemingly knew exactly where to put the ball in home-plate umpire Angel Hernandez's strike zone without letting a Cardinal other than Sanders to get decent contact on the ball. Nobody's feeling sorry for Phil Garner having to start Backe in Games 1 and 5 anymore.
Jeff Kent: He's not a Killer B, but he sure burned Isringhausen, pouncing on a pitch over the middle of the plate and sending it into LCS history. If the Astros go on to win the series, this will be the pitch that turned it. Two of Kent's three hits in the series have been homers. But then, if not for Sanders' lunging grab, Kent might've had the leadoff double that resulted in the deciding run in the seventh.
Carlos Beltran: He helped the win in three different ways. His run and dive seemingly from Beaumont to left-center flat-out stole a hit from Edgar Renteria. Beltran's leadoff single in the ninth was Houston's first hit since the opening inning. Once Beltran got on base, he was all too glad to take second once Isringhausen finally threw a ball the Astros couldn't take a swing at. After all that, nobody will remember this as his first homerless game since Game 4 of the Division Series.
Brad Lidge: Ice pack, anybody? At least he got to wait until the ninth before going out there, but after back-to-back two-inning performances, he looked as fresh as he did in Game 3. Lidge sent down the top third of the Cardinals order in nine pitches, including Larry Walker and Albert Pujols on back-to-back strikeouts. To put that in perspective, Walker and Pujols made back-to-back outs in the same inning all of three times through the first four games of the series compared to six times reaching base safely back-to-back.
This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.