July 20, 2004: Albert Pujols goes 5-for-5 with three home runs in Cardinals’ comeback

Even before Chicago Cubs left-hander Glendon Rusch threw the game’s first pitch to St. Louis Cardinals leadoff batter Tony Womack, tensions were high in Wrigley Field.

The previous night, the fireworks started when Jim Edmonds hit a two-run home run off Chicago’s Carlos Zambrano. The fiery Cubs right-hander felt that Edmonds spent too long admiring the ball as it flew over the right-field wall and shouted at the Cardinals center fielder as he rounded the bases. Tempers flared and the benches cleared before order was restored.

Four innings later, Cardinals third baseman Scott Rolen hit what proved to be the game-winning blast, a two-run home run that broke a 3-3 tie. Zambrano responded immediately by hitting Edmonds with a pitch for the second time that game, earning ejections for Zambrano and Cubs manager Dusty Baker.

With those events fresh on everyone’s mind, it didn’t take long for matters to escalate.

Led by a pitching staff that included Greg Maddux, Kerry Wood, and Mark Prior and a lineup that included Aramis Ramirez, Moises Alou, and Sammy Sosa, the Cubs had entered the season as the National League Central favorites. However, they entered the day trailing the Cardinals by nine games, just half a game ahead of the third-place Cincinnati Reds. Ever since the calendar turned to July, St. Louis had been hot, winning 12 of their previous 14 games, including an eight-game win streak to open the month.

The Cardinals took a brief first-inning lead. Womack drew a leadoff walk and Edgar Renteria laid down a sacrifice bunt to move him to second base. Pujols, who came into the game batting .311, pulled a 3-2 curveball over Alou’s head in left field to give St. Louis a 1-0 lead.

Rolen, batting next, was hit on the arm by a 1-and-2 breaking ball. Though the circumstances made it unlikely that Rusch was throwing at the Cardinals’ third baseman, there seemed little doubt that a response was headed the Cubs’ way. In the bottom half of the inning, Cardinals right-hander Matt Morris delivered that reply by throwing a fastball that sailed behind Cubs center fielder Corey Patterson’s hips.

“I felt it was the right thing to do, to stick up for my teammates,” Morris said. “No one got hurt. In fact, it might have fired them up.”[1]

Indeed, while Morris retired the side in order in the first, he would not be so fortunate the next inning. He led off the inning by walking Alou, and fell behind Derrek Lee 2-and-0 before Lee homered to center field. Ramirez followed with a double, and Michael Barrett launched a line-drive home run over the right-field wall to make it 4-0.

Patterson added a two-run double over Edmonds’ head, and with two outs Alou hit an RBI single up the middle to give the Cubs a 7-1 lead and chase Morris from the game.

“I thought he hit a wall,” La Russa said. “He went out to the mound and it was like all of a sudden somebody punched him in the gut. He was having trouble breathing.”[2]

Pujols and Ramirez traded solo home runs in the third inning to make it 8-2, and in the sixth inning St. Louis began its comeback. After Pujols and Rolen each singled to lead off the inning, Edmonds singled into right field to score Pujols. Baker replaced Rusch with Francis Beltran, who immediately walked Sanders to load the bases, then walked Mike Matheny to score Rolen. So Taguchi reached on an infield single that scored Edmonds, and Ray Lankford hit a sacrifice fly that cut the Cubs’ lead to 8-6.

Pujols made it 8-7 in the top of the seventh when he greeted Kyle Farnsworth’s first-pitch fastball by slugging it over the left-field wall.

 

Farnsworth was still holding onto a one-run lead in the eighth inning when he fell behind Taguchi 3-and-1 threw a fastball down the middle of the plate. The diminutive Taguchi turned on the pitch and hit it into Waveland Avenue beyond the left-field wall. Afterwards, Pujols pointed to Taguchi’s home run as the biggest blow of the game.[3]

The teams were still deadlocked 8-8 when the Cubs turned to LaTroy Hawkins for the ninth inning. Renteria led off with an infield single to bring Pujols, already 4-for-4 with two home runs to the plate. Both of Pujols’ blasts had come on the first pitch, so Hawkins was cautious with his first offering, a low fastball. He was less cautious with his second pitch, a fastball out over the plate that Pujols hit the other way over the right-field wall.

Pujols’ three-homer game marked the first time a Cardinal had accomplished the feat since Mark McGwire on May 18, 2000.[4]

 

“As soon as I hit it, I knew it was out of the park,” Pujols said.[5]

With two outs, Reggie Sanders added a home run to center field to make it 11-8. After striking out Yadier Molina to end the top of the ninth, Hawkins got into an argument with home-plate umpire Tim Tschida and had to be restrained by Baker and four of his fellow coaches.[6]

“Do I regret it? No,” Hawkins said. “I talked to him like a man at first and it didn’t work.”[7]

In the ninth, Cardinals closer Jason Isringhausen worked around two walks and a single to earn the save. It marked the Cardinals’ largest comeback since July 28, 2002, when they rallied from a 6-0, third-inning deficit to beat the Cubs.[8]

It was a strong showing for the Cardinals bullpen, which allowed just one run in 7 1/3 innings, including three innings from Eldred and two shutout innings from Kiko Calero. Ray King earned the win after retiring the side in order in the eighth.

“It just shows the character of this team,” Isringhausen said. “After our big win Monday, we could have been content to leave town with a split … but we kept plugging away, plugging away. That’s how we do it. This is just a great win for us.”

With the win, the division-leading Cardinals moved 10 games ahead of the Cubs, who were leap-frogged by Cincinnati and fell into third place.

“This is the happiest I’ve ever been after giving up seven runs in 1 2/3 innings,” said Morris, who optimistically noted that the Cardinals’ comeback would not have been possible if he hadn’t allowed seven runs in the second inning.[9] “It’s unbelievable. To win that game against that team, with the position we’re in, it’s just a snowball effect. It keeps getting bigger.”[10]

In the next day’s St. Louis Post-Dispatch, columnist Bernie Miklasz compared Pujols’ performance to another classic Cardinals-Cubs showdown: the “Ryne Sandberg game” of June 23, 1984, in which Sandberg went 5-for-6 with two home runs and seven RBIs, helping to spur the Cubs to the 1984 division championship.

“Citizens of Cardinals Nation: We have a reverse Ryno,” Miklasz wrote. “Two decades later, the St. Louis-Chicago rivalry has crowned a new comeback king – His Majesty Albert Pujols.”[11]


[1] Dave van Dyke, “Rallying the best revenge,” Chicago Tribune, July 21, 2004: Page 4-1.

[2] Joe Strauss, “Cubs gum it up; Birds stick it to ’em,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, July 21, 2004: D1.

[3] Strauss.

[4] Strauss.

[5] Strauss.

[6] Paul Sullivan, “Losing it … again,” Chicago Tribune, July 21, 2004: 4-1.

[7] Sullivan.

[8] Strauss.

[9] van Dyke.

[10] Strauss.

[11] Bernie Miklasz, “In Sandberg’s yard, Pujols shows he’s second to none,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, July 21, 2004: D1.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: