Sun May 23 12:05pm EDT
Let's play choose your own adventure, MLB-style.
Here's the situation: There are two outs in the bottom of the eighth inning, your team has a four-run lead, the greatest hitter who ever lived is at the plate, a pitcher with a 4.44 career ERA is on the mound, and there's a runner at first base. And let's just say, hypothetically, that the baserunner is 0-for-2 on steal attempts this season and 16-for-30 lifetime. What's your next move?
The St. Louis Cardinals found themselves in precisely that situation on Friday. Albert Pujols(notes) was facing Angels reliever Jason Bulger(notes) while Ryan Ludwick(notes) stood on first. That's obviously a terrific setup for Pujols, the reigning National League MVP.
But on Bulger's first pitch, Ludwick took off for second — and he was thrown out by a mile. (Or if not literally a mile, then a significant percentage of a mile. It wasn't close). The inning thus ended, and Pujols was denied a chance to extend the Cardinals lead. He was not pleased.
The St. Louis Post-Dispatch offers these details:
Pujols flipped his bat and helmet as he returned to the dugout then smacked two trays of gum from a bench against the Cardinals dugout wall.
La Russa reprimanded Pujols, saying, "That's enough."
Pujols responded and, according to eyewitnesses, the exchange escalated with La Russa telling Pujols at one point, "I [expletive] know how to manage."
No one can dispute that La Russa knows how to manage, obviously. He's won five pennants and two World Series titles. But that's just a crazy spot to attempt a steal. If Ludwick would have been successful, Pujols gets walked. Only Ludwick's fantasy owners appreciated the decision.
Albert has been in a semi-slump — at least by his ridiculous standards — batting .267/.396/.400 so far in May. He hasn't driven in a run in his last eight games. His between-innings reaction was either A) evidence of his frustration with his recent performance, or B) a total condemnation of gum.
Both La Russa and Pujols have downplayed the incident, and it sounds like nothing more than typical heat-of-battle bickering. These were Albert's comments:
Pujols didn't dispute that the incident happened but considered it insignificant.
"I was hitting and we got thrown out stealing. I wanted to hit. That's all it was," he said.
Pujols added, "It's over. We said what we said. It's over."
Such things happen when you trail the Reds in the N.L. Central.
Not to be out-done (or out-outed), the Angels allowed Erick Aybar(notes) to lay down a bunt in the ninth inning, trailing by four. (He was credited with a sacrifice, though he was no doubt looking for a hit. Aybar has a bit more speed than Ludwick).
No word on whether objects were attacked in LA's dugout, or whether Mike Scioscia declared that he [expletive] knows anything.
Photo of La Russa and Pujols in happier times via US Presswire