Remembering Cards' 2004 NLCS clincher

April 20th, 2020

ST. LOUIS -- The Cardinals’ 5-2 win over the Astros in Game 7 of the 2004 National League Championship Series streamed recently on Facebook (MLB/Las Mayores), Twitter (MLB/Las Mayores) and YouTube (MLB). It’s the game known for Scott Rolen’s two-run blast off Roger Clemens, but it couldn’t have happened without Jim Edmonds’ walk-off homer in Game 6 or his diving catch in Game 7.

Let’s relive the drama:

The NLCS began as a mismatch -- the 105-win Cardinals had won the NL Central with a 13-game gap on Houston -- and was overshadowed by the Red Sox’s comeback against the Yankees in the ALCS, but it became a classic. All seven games had at least one lead change, the home team won every game and two of the games were decided by walk-off home runs. It was a showcase of stars, pitting Houston’s Carlos Beltrán against the eventual series MVP Albert Pujols. The drama in each game was unabating.

St. Louis won the first two games but then dropped the next three games in Houston to come home hoping to force Game 7. In the 12th inning of Game 6, Edmonds’ signature upper-cut swing launched a pitch deep into the right-field stands at Busch Stadium and sent the series to Game 7. Houston turned to seven-time Cy Young Award winner Roger Clemens, and the Cardinals turned to Jeff Suppan.

This game, Edmonds made his mark with his glove. In the second inning, catcher Brad Ausmus scorched a deep line drive to center field. Edmonds, standing in shallow center, didn’t appear to have a chance. But he chased down the ball with a great jump, even better closing speed and a diving catch that saved at least two runs and prevented a big inning.

"I remember specifically in that playoff game, being so excited that I was running faster than I thought I could run," Edmonds told editor Matthew Leach in his book, "Game of My Life." "I was really getting after it. Usually when you break on a ball, you just try to get yourself to top speed as fast as you can and then go true to the ball. There, I feel like I was digging a little bit harder."

The Astros’ lead remained in reach. But Clemens was rolling and hadn’t given up many mistakes to the Cardinals -- not in the regular season, when he had a 2.38 ERA against St. Louis, and not in Game 7.

In the sixth inning, Suppan was lifted for pinch-hitter Roger Cedeno, who had an 11-for-26 mark against Clemens. The move worked, and Cedeno singled and took second on a sacrifice bunt. After Larry Walker’s groundout, Pujols tied the game with a two-out double and brought Rolen to the plate.

Manager Phil Garner and the Astros decided to have Clemens pitch to Rolen -- who, despite solid numbers against Clemens, hadn’t been at his best since an early September calf injury -- instead of Edmonds, the left-hander who had broken the Astros’ heart the night before.

On the first pitch, Rolen delivered. His two-out, two-run home run was the deciding factor in sending the Cardinals to the World Series and giving St. Louis its first National League pennant since 1987.

"As I walked in, the last thought in my mind was, 'You just lost,’” Rolen said. “I wasn't thinking fastball. I wasn't thinking split. I wasn't thinking anything in the count. I got in the box and I wasn't swinging the bat well in general. And I got in the box and he threw a ball that I, nine times out of 10, can't handle. First pitch, the ball was a fastball up and in, and I don't handle that ball very well.

"And I squared the ball up on the barrel, and I knew as soon as I hit it that I had just won the game for the St. Louis Cardinals to send us to the World Series. As the ball came off my bat, I hit it and I knew at that time, 'You lost. I just won the game for the St. Louis Cardinals to go to the World Series.'"