HOUSTON — In the hallways and the interview room and their clubhouse at Minute Maid Park on Monday night, the Houston Astros tried to deny the emotions that had staggered them, tried to look ahead to Game 6 of the National League championship series instead of behind at Albert Pujols' ninth-inning three-run home run that gave the St. Louis Cardinals a 5-4 victory in Game 5.
"It hurt for one minute," said Houston owner Drayton McLane. "We are still in the lead" three games to two in the best-of-seven series. "This will make it that much more meaningful when we win."
With two out, the Cardinals rallied off Houston closer Brad Lidge with a single by David Eckstein and a walk by Jim Edmonds before Pujols' blast.
"The mistake we made is walking Edmonds," said Astro Manager Phil Garner.
"You have to let Edmonds hit the ball. You can't walk him and Brad knows that."
Encircled by a media mob in the clubhouse, Lidge exhibited resolve rather than regret.
"This stings a little," he said. "Afterward, my teammates had nothing but hugs for me.
"When I wake up [Tuesday], I will put it behind me. That's my job as a closer. If I couldn't put stuff like this behind me, I wouldn't last long in this league."
The series doesn't resume until Wednesday in St. Louis, giving the Astros a day to regroup.
"That's probably a good thing," Garner said.
Houston is all too familiar with game-deciding home runs in the postseason off Cardinal bats. Edmonds won Game 6 of last season's NLCS between the two teams with a walk-off home run in the 12th inning off Dan Miceli.
St. Louis went on to win the series in seven games.
Pujols' home run was the seventh of his career in the NLCS. The only player with more is Steve Garvey, who hit eight.... The game ended two streaks. St. Louis had lost a championship series-record seven straight on the road. Houston had won seven straight postseason games at home.... This was the fifth time the Astros have played in a potential NLCS-clinching game and lost them all.