Pujols has landmark performance in Game 3 rout
Pujols, widely acknowledged as baseball’s best hitter, slugged three home runs in the St. Louis Cardinals’ 16-7 pummeling of the Rangers in Game 3 of the World Series. It might have been the best offensive performance in the history of the Fall Classic.
The three homers tied a series record achieved twice by Babe Ruth and once by Reggie Jackson. His five hits equaled the mark held by Paul Molitor of the Milwaukee Brewers. His six runs batted in tied the record set by the Yankees’ Bobby Richardson in 1960 and tied by Yankee Hideki Matsui(notes) in 2009.
Not bad company. Oh, yes, and Pujols set a series record with 14 total bases. And became the first player to get hits in four consecutive innings.
“It’s pretty special,” he said of equaling the feats of Ruth and Jackson. “Those guys were great players. To do it on this stage is amazing. At the same time, I didn’t walk into the ballpark thinking I’d have a night like tonight.”
What got into him? Sure, he’s a lifetime .328 hitter. His first 11 seasons match up with just about anybody who has ever worn a uniform. And he’s been just as good in the postseason, batting .331 with 15 home runs in 248 at-bats before Saturday’s onslaught.
But he was 0 for 6 in the first two games of this series. And he was called out for avoiding the media after his ninth-inning error cost the Cardinals Game 2.
[Related: Locked-in Pujols puts on a historic display]
He said that he was in the clubhouse dining area and didn’t realize reporters wanted to talk to him. Not a convincing alibi, but whatever he was eating, Cardinals manager Tony La Russa ought to order 25 portions and have every player chow down before Sunday’s Game 4.
This time, Pujols graced the interview room moments after the game.
“I felt I’d swung the bat well the last couple games,” he said. “That’s the way baseball is. You have to make sure you don’t get frustrated and bounce back the next day and help the team win.
“It’s not about me, it’s about our ballclub. It’s about representing the Cardinals.”
Others were in awe.
“The guy just got locked in,” Rangers manager Ron Washington said. “He’s a super player. There is no doubt about it. He certainly came to play tonight.”
[Y! Sports Shop: Buy Rangers and Cardinals playoffs gear]
Pujols’ performance overshadowed the fact that a taut, low-scoring series suddenly morphed into a shower of singles, doubles and home runs by a host of players.
Maybe it was the increase in temperature from a hand-stinging 47 degrees in St. Louis to a summerlike 80 in Texas. Perhaps the vaunted relief pitchers on both sides are finally tiring from overuse.
Or maybe a blown call early on was like twisting the cap off a shaken carbonated beverage. What should have been a rally-killing double play instead became a four-run Cardinals fourth inning, the beginning of their 13-run explosion over the same four innings in which Pujols had hits.
The Cardinals benefited when first base umpire Ron Kulpa called Matt Holliday(notes) safe even though Mike Napoli(notes) had tagged him before he reached the bag in the fourth inning. The Rangers didn’t seem fazed, answering with consecutive three-run innings.
But the Cardinals kept scoring, sandwiching three runs between those Rangers rallies. Then added four the next inning. And two the next.
The Rangers simply couldn’t keep up. They continued to produce baserunners – amassing 13 hits to the Cardinals’ 15 in the game – but stranded eight runners. Both teams finished with more hits than they had in the first two games combined.
“We fought, we tried to get back in that ballgame but it was a little too much for us,” Washington said.
The scoring began on a solo home run by Allen Craig(notes), whose clutch pinch hits in the first two games against hard-throwing Rangers reliever Alexi Ogando(notes) gave the Cardinals leads. Craig started in right field because the designated hitter is allowed in the American League ballpark; Lance Berkman(notes), the usual right fielder, served as the DH.
Ogando faced Craig again in Game 3 … and struck him out in the sixth inning. Not that Ogando celebrated for long: Pujols followed with a 423-foot, three-run home run off the facing of the club level, and each of the other five batters Ogando faced reached base.
Pujols also homered in his next two at-bats as the Cardinals extended their lead to the point of gluttony.
It was a night of slugging, a night of records and of milestones And one was accomplished by someone besides Pujols: La Russa moved into second place in postseason victories among managers, passing Bobby Cox and trailing only Joe Torre.
Pujols savored that mark as well.
“It’s special to share a special moment with Tony,” he said. “He’s been like a dad to me. Those are moments that when you are done with this game, you can take with you.”