ST. LOUIS -- When the Cardinals boarded their charter plane bound for St. Louis following Monday's Game 5 of the National League Championship Series, they had to understand that what they had just experienced was baseball history."I don't think anybody really remembers getting on that plane," Cardinals manager Tony La Russa said Tuesday afternoon. "It was kind of magical, an unbelievable set of circumstances." Indeed, the three-run homer Albert Pujols blasted into the upper reaches of Minute Maid Park to keep the Cardinals' season alive wasn't just another big hit for their biggest hitter. It was one for the books, something that will go down in baseball lore for years to come. It was history, pure and simple. But once the Cardinals touched down in St. Louis, got some rest and worked out at Busch Stadium instead of packing up their belongings Tuesday afternoon, the blast and the game and the comeback were just that. History. On the eve of their next biggest game of the year, the one that was one strike away from never coming at all, it was all about Game 6, not about Game 5. "We've got to be ready to be focused back on the field," leadoff hitter David Eckstein said. "This is a confident club. Last night showed the resilience of this club. But we can't carry over what happened Monday night to Wednesday night." Closer Jason Isringhausen, whose job description demands that he puts the good or the bad behind him, delivered what has to stand as his greatest performance in a Cardinals uniform to date -- two innings of spotless ball under the glare of the brightest spotlight in Game 5. By Tuesday afternoon, Game 5 had been washed away. He won't be thinking about Monday come Wednesday. "I won't really use it as anything, one way or the other," Isringhausen said. "I know if I'm called upon to pitch [Wednesday] night, I've still got to make pitches, no matter what happened two nights before." A closer has to have that mentality. The Astros' Brad Lidge needs it as much as Isringhausen right now, probably more. In that job, you're only as good as your next save opportunity. But the same mentality courses through the Cardinals clubhouse, and really has all season long. It's just that until this week, it was mostly about putting the good behind them, not the bad. That's not meant to portray these guys as automatons, marching through this postseason without feeling a thing. Even notoriously cool customer Mark Mulder had to admit that the emotions were yo-yoing him around in the dugout as he watched the Cardinals' latest bit of history unfold.
"You go from one moment, trying to prepare yourself to pitch in two games, to going, 'All right, well, I guess I'm going home,' to, 'Are you kidding me?'" the Cardinals' Game 6 starter said Tuesday. "And then all of a sudden you're getting yourself ready to pitch again."Everybody would be lying if for one minute, one second you didn't think, 'All right, it looks like we're going home.'" Sure enough, they did. First David Eckstein, then Jim Edmonds and then Albert Pujols, touching home plate at Minute Maid Park, which itself went from deafening to deflated with one stroke of Pujols' bat. "There were 45,000 people, and when I hit that ball, it was like when you press mute on the TV," Pujols said Tuesday. "Nobody could say anything. That felt great." But once it was over and the Cardinals were back in Busch Stadium, it was over. Done. Kaput. Aside from the fact that they must focus on the task at hand and deal with an electric ace starter in the Astros' Roy Oswalt, La Russa presents a very good reason why yesterday means nothing when tomorrow comes, particularly in this case. "It's a great story," La Russa said. "It's a lot greater if we can take it to Game 7." The only way they can get to Game 7 is to get through Game 6, and it was evident Tuesday that the Cardinals are mentally ready. "The simplest and healthiest frame of mind that our club has to have is, 'Are we good enough to win the next game?' Period," La Russa said. "With all due respect to the Astros and Roy Oswalt, you have to believe that we can win the game. Otherwise, why should we play it? " There is more history to be written in this series. The Cardinals are keenly aware of that. Good luck writing a chapter as compelling as Game 5, but there's certainly room for more entries in baseball's endless history book.
John Schlegel is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.