CHICAGO -- The Houston Astros waited 44 seasons for Yadier Molina's soft fly ball to settle into the glove of right fielder Jason Lane on Wednesday night.
For Brad Lidge, the previous 48 hours felt almost as long.
Until the Astros finally put away the St. Louis Cardinals in the National League Championship Series and advanced to their first World Series, Lidge had to be squirming on the bullpen bench.
Given the chance to finish off St. Louis in Game 5, Lidge got within one strike of a clinching victory before David Eckstein's two-out single set in motion a chain of events that ended with Albert Pujols' three-run homer.
Fortunately for Lidge, the Astros didn't let him be the fall guy. As champagne sprayed late Wednesday, Lidge stood in the middle of the visitors' clubhouse, soaked, and flashed the biggest smile.
"It's nice to put it to bed, move on and get to go to the World Series," Lidge said after Houston's 5-1 victory in Game 6. "People looked at that like it was the end, but we never had a doubt that we were going to win this thing."
Maybe in the Astros' clubhouse. But for those who saw Pujols' mammoth blast, it seemed like the kind that can demoralize a team beyond repair.
What the Astros proved is that they apparently are immune to such doubt, a trait that could be their biggest asset against the Chicago White Sox when the World Series opens tomorrow night at U.S. Cellular Field in Chicago.
"We started off 15-30," Astros third baseman Morgan Ensberg said, referring to the Astros' deep hole to begin the season. "You think that home run was going to stop us? It may have looked that way from the outside. But on the inside, there were a lot of positives in our favor."
Game 6 starter Roy Oswalt, for instance, and Roger Clemens, if needed in Game 7. With that kind of pitching in your corner, it's easy to have faith, and Oswalt never let the Cardinals be anything more than stage props for the Astros' closing performance at Busch Stadium.
Perhaps the defining moment of the night came in the first inning, when Oswalt tied up Pujols with a 95-mph inside fastball that made him look foolish. Oswalt was clearly the aggressor, and Pujols managed only a meek half-swing for strike three. From that point, it was Oswalt's game, and he took his teammates along for the ride.
"He had no-hit stuff early," Clemens said. "I'm so proud of that kid, and he's somebody we're going to have around here for a long time."
But there is no one more important in the Astros' universe than Clemens, and his teaming up with Andy Pettitte this season fulfilled the lost hopes of a year ago. Pettitte missed the playoffs last October because of elbow surgery, and when the Cardinals eliminated the Astros by taking the NLCS in seven games, he worried that he let his new team down.
"I'm just so thankful," Pettitte said. "I felt like I had so much pressure on me coming in because everybody was saying I was the reason why we didn't get to the World Series last year."
Pettitte said this club, with its resilient nature, reminded him of the Yankees, circa 1996-2000, back when they were winning the World Series nearly every year.
"They've just shown unbelievable growth throughout the year," Pettitte said. "We just jelled really well together. Kind of like the early days when I was with New York."
Even Lidge, who could have been defined by that pitch to Pujols, is able to joke about it.
"I turned on CNN and it was on," Lidge said of the Pujols homer. "It's been hard to get away from. But now I'm getting the chance to pitch in a World Series, so I don't even care about what happened."
David Lennon writes for Newsday.