October 21, 2011
ST. LOUIS — Those of us in the media had been gathered in an anticipatory half-circle for about 10 minutes. Boom mikes had been lofted, cameras had been shouldered and pens had been tested for their utility on blank notebook pages. Everyone awaited the arrival of Albert Pujols(notes).
[Video: Albert Pujols' error proves costly]
"Albert is gone," said the shortstop.
The mob stared back, careful not to look too concerned in case Furcal was just joking.
Everyone peered into Pujols' locker at Busch Stadium and really looked for the first time. A pair of empty No. 5 cleats. A hung-up uniform. Then, the tell-tale sign: Not a single shred of street clothing. In the 10-minute cooling off period before the doors opened to the media, Pujols — along with Lance Berkman(notes), Yadier Molina(notes) and Matt Holliday(notes) — had disappeared faster than the Cardinals' lead in the ninth inning of Thursday's Game 2 of the World Series.
Talk about the team's disappointing 2-1 loss to the Texas Rangers? That was a mess for the Cardinals' lesser lights to clean up. It was certainly not a job for Albert and the others on top of the team masthead.
Whether or not the public cares if athletes talk to media after the games is a hard issue to judge. There's the heat-of-battle aspect and what does it really matter if a player just wants to forgo the mob of microphones after a disappointing loss? It's not as if anything they say will change the outcome of the game or affect how they do in the next contest.
But here's why I think it matters: If Jason Motte(notes) can stand tall in front of his locker and talk about being charged with the loss after a rally started with a bloop single by Ian Kinsler(notes), then Pujols can answer questions about going 0 for 4.
If Arthur Rhodes(notes) can talk about giving up a sacrifice fly to Josh Hamilton(notes) that tied the game, then Pujols can stick around to answer a few questions about the cutoff throw that he missed, allowing Elvis Andrus(notes) to move the winning run into scoring position.
Motte made $435,000 this season. Pujols made $16 million and will ask for even more this offseason. Rhodes has been here three months. Pujols has been here a decade.
He really can't share any of the postgame load or send his team's fans a few reassuring words as they head to Texas for Game 3? That's weak and it doesn't speak to his stature in the game or to the leadership qualities he's so often lauded for.
Pujols didn't talk after Game 5 of the NLCS — a St. Louis victory — and so it was speculated that perhaps he did not want to field any of the "was this your last home game in a Cardinals uniform?" questions that would have undoubtedly come his way. But tough noogies. Dealing with dumb and uncomfortable questions are just part of the game: Easily asked and even more easily dismissed.
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When it became clear that Pujols was long gone, the remaining pack of reporters just slide-stepped to Furcal for an unplanned interview. The second question was about Pujols' inability to stop John Jay's throw and get Andrus in a rundown for the first out of the inning.
"Is that a play Albert makes nine times out of 10?" someone asked.
"I don't know," Furcal said. "You've got to ask him."
We would have if we could have.
Maybe next win time.
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