Albert Pujols struck a memorable blow on this pitch from Astros closer Brad Lidge in the ninth inning of Game 5 of the 2005 NLCS.
SIGNATURE PLAY: Albert Pujols' homer off Brad Lidge in Game 5 of the 2005 NLCS
This was a decade filled with signature plays -- Jeter's flip to get Jeremy Giambi at the plate, Jeter's home run after midnight in the 2001 World Series, A.J. Pierzynski's run to first, Ortiz's homer to win Game 4 of the 2004 ALCS, Curt Schilling's bloody sock performance. But the singular moment happened when the singular player of the decade, Pujols, faced one of the great relievers of the decade, Lidge, with two outs in the ninth in Game 5 of the 2005 NLCS. There were two men on, the Cardinals trailed the Astros by two, and Pujols hit one of the longest home runs in postseason history. That home run was so massive; it was one of those moments that made people all across America jump out of their recliners. And dead silence fell over the Houston ballpark. In the end, the Astros won the series. Lidge's career crumbled for a time, and then he re-emerged. And Pujols was the player of the decade. It was all there.
BIGGEST CONTROVERSY: Steroids
Well, of course. The consequences of the Steroid Era are still being felt, mostly in Hall of Fame voting and with the periodic stories that come out and name names. The crescendo of the steroid mess came not during the congressional hearings (when Rafael Palmeiro waggled his finger and announced he did not use steroids or when Mark McGwire refused to talk about the past) but during the Barry Bonds home run chase, when baseball sheepishly tried to celebrate Bonds passing the classy Hank Aaron for the all-time record. Commissioner Bud Selig, a good friend of Aaron's, looked mortified the entire time. But recently, when McGwire joined the Cardinals as batting coach, Selig announced that it was great to have him back in the game. Just goes to show you that nobody really knows what to make of the time.
MOST OUTSTANDING SINGLE-GAME PERFORMANCE: Randy Johnson's perfect game against the Braves on May 18, 2004
You could argue that Shawn Green's 6-for-6, four-homer performance for the Dodgers against Milwaukee in 2002 is as good as anyone can be. Alex Rodriguez and Garret Anderson each had 10-RBI games. And there's Schilling's one-hit, 17-strikeout game against Milwaukee in 2002 and Mark Buehrle's perfect game against the Rays in 2009. But Johnson's perfect game against a good-hitting Atlanta team is the best of the decade. He struck out 14, including future Hall of Fame Chipper Jones three times. He threw 117 pitches -- 87 for strikes.
Click here for a gallery of memorable performances in the decade
BIGGEST VILLAIN: Barry Bonds
Who else? In the decade, Bonds became baseball's single-season home run leader and baseball's career home run leader. And he somehow did this while making almost no one like him. The steroid allegations that constantly swirled around him were part of the story, but the truth is that people generally did not like Bonds for a long time. It's a shame because Bonds really was a singular player who could be extremely charming when the mood struck him. Which, obviously, was not often enough.
BEST TEAM RIVALRY: Yankees vs. Red Sox
Sure, it has been overplayed -- and it has been relived in countless books. But that doesn't make the rivalry any less real. New York and Boston are natural rivals as cities, the Yankees and Red Sox have a long and entertaining history, and they are also two of the biggest spenders in the game. And this was the best decade in the history of the rivalry -- the victories went back and forth throughout. The Red Sox came back from 3-0 down. But the Yankees won the famous Pedro Martinez game. But the Red Sox were one of the few teams that had some success against Rivera. But the Yankees got A-Rod. And so on.
BEST INDIVIDUAL RIVALRY: Moneyball vs. Tradition
Moneyball -- despite what many may think -- is not really about on-base percentage or not giving away an out with a sacrifice bunt. It is about a new way of looking at baseball and trying to find market inefficiencies. And this rivalry of old vs. new was the overriding theme of the decade. Some teams and fans embraced whatever new theories and information was out there; others clung to tradition and long-held beliefs about what makes a baseball team win. Both sides had their victories, though it does seem that on-base percentage, at least, has moved its way into the mainstream.
OUTSIZED PERSONALITY: Manny Ramirez
You can knock the guy as much as you want, but MannyBManny has still never played on a losing baseball team. He hit .317/.419/.599 for the decade, slugged 348 home runs, was suspended for using an illegal substance, was caught on many occasions loafing in the outfield and he demanded to be traded or treated with respect often. But inside the batter's box, Manny is pure genius. He's one of the greatest right-handed hitters in baseball history.
PYRRHIC VICTORY: The Marlins' 2003 World Series title.
Sneak into playoffs, win a World Series, trade off players, slowly build up your team while few in South Florida watch, sneak into playoffs, win a World Series, trade off players ... wash, rinse, repeat.
BEST NEW STADIUM: PNC Park, Pittsburgh
The Pirates have not finished on the good side of .500 since 1992, when they still had Bonds. But PNC Park on the north shore of the Allegheny River is a gem of a park with a great view of the field, and of downtown, all lit up by old-fashioned light fixtures that are built to look like old Forbes Field.
BEST INNOVATION: PitchFX
These days, you can go to MLB.com and know everything you want to know about every pitch -- the speed, the break, the type of pitch and so on. This does make it tough on radio and television announcers, who have been getting by for years with vague pronouncements like "an off-speed pitch," or "that's a breaking pitch" or "he pulled the string on that one."
WORST INNOVATION: Not showing close calls on stadium video board
Baseball obviously does not want to show up its umpires, but you simply cannot get away with making sure that the only people who do not know what happened on a play are the ones who paid good money to get into the park.
BEST COACH: Dave Duncan, Cardinals pitching coach
No coach is better at coaxing talent out of young and old pitchers. He's the only pitching coach in baseball who did not pitch -- which makes you wonder if baseball executives should think more out of the box. Greg Maddux, for instance, would make an excellent hitting coach.
BIGGEST NEAR-MISS: Red Sox not acquiring A-Rod
The Red Sox had a great decade -- their best since Babe Ruth pitched and Harry Hooper played in the outfield -- but how much better would it have been had they completed the trade for Alex Rodriguez? The trade was done... and then vetoed by the players' union. Since then, the Red Sox have had five different Opening Day shortstops.