DETROIT -- Only one hitter has caused Tigers manager Brad Ausmus to lose sleep the night of a game during his playing career.
That slugger, the Angels' Albert Pujols, batted third Friday night against Detroit.
In Game 5 of the 2005 National League Championship Series, with Ausmus' Astros on the cusp of their first World Series berth in franchise history, Pujols came to the plate in the top of the ninth with two men on for St. Louis.
Then-closer Brad Lidge, Ausmus' batterymate, had struck out the first two batters of the inning. After a single and a walk, Pujols came to the plate, and then-manager Phil Garner came out to the mound to discuss how to approach the at-bat.
"He said, 'We don't have to give him anything to hit,'" Ausmus recalled Friday. "'If we walk him, we walk him. We'll go after the next guy.'"
The first pitch went according to plan. Lidge got Pujols to swing and miss on a low slider. Ausmus called for another slider and set up in the same spot, but Lidge missed the location and hung it. Pujols crushed a towering shot to left.
"I went from having to yell over the umpire to being able to hear the people in the center-field restaurant talking," Ausmus said of the atmosphere in Houston after the turning point, which allowed the Cardinals to cut the series lead to 3-2.
On the flight to St. Louis, Ausmus sensed the team was in desperate need of a lift. With a little coaxing, he convinced the pilot to deliver a message intended to boost spirits once the plane reached 30,000 feet.
"If you look to the left," the pilot said, "you can see Albert Pujols' home run ball."
After a moment of shock and confusion, Ausmus revealed himself as the culprit, and the tension was lifted. The joke served its purpose -- Houston won the pennant in Game 6 in St. Louis and advanced to the World Series.
Jason Beck is a reporter for MLB.com. Read Beck's Blog and follow him on Twitter @beckjason. Matt Slovin is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.