Faced with a 1-2 count, Albert Pujols had Roger Clemens just where he wanted him.
The Cardinals' star came through just as he had so many times in his career, driving a game-tying RBI double in the sixth inning of St. Louis' series-clinching 5-2 victory over the Houston Astros in Game Seven on Thursday night.
It was pretty much the pitch Clemens wanted, too, a fastball up and in.
"He should have jammed 90 percent of the hitters," Cardinals manager Tony La Russa said. "Albert was able to stay inside and hit it hard, hit it fair. I mean, that's just great hitting.
"Not many guys have that type of stroke."
He won a batting title last year with a .359 average, he's one of only three players to drive in 100 runs in his first four years and he is the only player to hit 30 homers in his first four years.
And in the NLCS, he had a gaudy .500 average, four homers and nine RBIs.
Pujols, the NL MVP runner-up the last two seasons, was an obvious choice as the MVP of the NLCS after leading the Cardinals to their first World Series in 17 years. They'll play the Boston Red Sox in Game One on Saturday night.
"It's every little boy's dream," Pujols said. "I'm glad to have won the MVP, but that trophy is going to stay right in this room. Because everybody here is MVP."
In the first five innings, the 42-year-old Clemens, the Astros' ace, stymied the NL's best offense, limiting them to one run on three hits. In the sixth, Pujols' double punctured Clemens' mystique and erased Houston's 2-1 lead.
"The last at-bat against Clemens is one of the best," Pujols said. "I think I'm going to keep dreaming about it for the next couple of weeks.
"He didn't make a bad pitch. Just thank the Lord my hands came through."
Scott Rolen drove the next pitch from the rattled Clemens over the left-field wall for a 4-2 lead.
"I don't know if I was rolling but I sure was trying to make two runs hold up," Clemens said. "I thought we would add on if I could keep them at bay there, but they got a couple of big hits."
The hitters surrounding Pujols make the Cardinals' No. 3 hitter that much more dangerous. Rolen, the cleanup hitter, was second in the NL with 124 RBIs, and Larry Walker, hitting second, is a three-time batting champion.
Clemens was more worried about Rolen, who had flied out to the wall in center in the fourth. So, there was no notion of pitching around Pujols.
"It's not like Roger had been fooling them," Astros catcher Brad Ausmus said. "We got ahead with two strikes and at that point, even Albert Pujols isn't a better hitter.
"But you have to give Albert credit. He's hit well the entire season and even better in this series."
Cardinals right-hander Julian Tavarez appealed his $10,000 fine for throwing a pitch over the head of Houston's Jeff Bagwell during the NL Championship Series.
The players' union filed the appeal Thursday before Game Seven of the NLCS. St. Louis General Manager Walt Jocketty said he was not aware of it.
Craig Biggio led off Game Seven with a home run, and it was a record-setting shot.
The drive against Jeff Suppan gave Houston and St. Louis a combined 24 home runs, the most in any postseason series. Rolen added a homer for the Cardinals. Florida and the Cubs set the previous mark of 23 in last year's NLCS.
Biggio's homer was the Astros' 14th of the NLCS, tying the record by one team in a postseason series set by Barry Bonds and San Francisco in the 2002 World Series.