Pujols drama fills void on World Series off day
ARLINGTON, Texas – The Four Hoarsemen of the Arch-pocalypse – Conquest, War, Famine and No Comment – appeared one by one on the field at Rangers Ballpark at Arlington, squinting into a blazing Friday afternoon sun.
In less than 24 hours, they’d foisted fresh elements into the World Series, two games old and already notable for its late drama, daily ruminations on managerial brilliance and/or ineptness, hourly reports on the fitness of Josh Hamilton’s(notes) groin and other spectacles of too many people in one place over too long a time.
Now, in the down time between Games 2 and 3, we’d added Skategate, the saga of the four St. Louis Cardinals – Albert Pujols(notes), Lance Berkman(notes), Matt Holliday(notes) and Yadier Molina(notes) – who skipped out of the clubhouse in the aftermath of the Texas Rangers’ stirring victory Thursday night, leaving reporters to think up their own stuff.
The reaction was swift and scolding. No one got it worse than Pujols, of course.
By the following day, depending on the source, he was unhappy with the loss, his error and his hitless game, or he was dining in the Cardinals’ food room and his invitation to the postgame media scrum had been lost in the mail, or he simply despises reporters.
Of the other three evacuees, only Molina seems, like Pujols, a sullen sort and – given how Game 2 ended – perhaps had little interest in the frame-by-frame reliving of Ian Kinsler’s(notes) stolen base, which carries the potential of being series-changing, even if Molina wasn’t to blame. As for the other two, if conspiracy theories are your gig, there were whispers Berkman and Holliday have wearied of covering for Pujols on such occasions and drew the line after Game 2 of the World Series. That went unconfirmed.
By Friday afternoon, their reactions ranged from apologetic (Berkman) to defiant (take a guess), none of which had the slightest bearing on Game 3 of the World Series, but served to carry the travel day nevertheless.
Of the criticism, Pujols said, “That’s not fair,” as he was in the area and simply didn’t realize his presence in the clubhouse was mandatory or favored.
[Related: Albert Pujols displays zero leadership]
As to his feelings of accountability to the media, he added, “My responsibility is to God and my family. I don’t have responsibility to anybody else.”
So, there you go.
(For what it’s worth, Pujols accepted blame for the ninth-inning error that allowed Elvis Andrus(notes) to move into scoring position. As the throw approached from center fielder Jon Jay(notes), Pujols spied Kinsler rounding third and suspected he could throw behind Kinsler. Said Pujols: “The ball cut on me and I took my eye off it. … If you want to blame me for that, for losing the game, then OK. I don’t care.”)
Berkman, maybe the most approachable player in the game, explained, “I don’t think it’s unfair to criticize last night. Obviously, that doesn’t look good. I can tell you it was unintentional.”
After a pause he added, “At least on my part.”
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While a little media-vs.-player tiff never hurt anyone, it did on this afternoon distract from the series at hand, which was a shame, and now I’ve spent half a column on it.
What has taken root in this World Series is pitching, front end and back end. What spreads is the keen sense that there will be a single play, a single pitch or a single flash of the bat that changes everything.
Amid a backdrop of fluidity in baseball – the Boston Red Sox general manager is about to become the Chicago Cubs president, the San Diego general manager will be his general manager (leaving an opening for the former Arizona Diamondbacks general manager), the Los Angeles Angels and Baltimore Orioles are filling the same jobs, the Los Angeles Dodgers may soon be looking for new ownership, and several mid-September favorites (Red Sox, New York Yankees, Philadelphia Phillies, Milwaukee Brewers, Atlanta Braves) were home by mid-October – what we appear to have here is a very sturdy series, even if its personality is about to change.
Right here in the midst of football season, the World Series’ temperature got a 40-degree bump. On the field Friday, the shade of a light stanchion brought relief. Suddenly, in a couple rounds of easy batting practice, the outfield fences were reachable again. A ball in the air brought long, contented gazes as it cleared the wall, the bullpen, the first deck, and clattered happily in the second. Pitching rotations worked toward their Nos. 3 and 4 (Kyle Lohse(notes) and Matt Harrison(notes) go in Saturday night’s Game 3). The designated hitter is in play.
It feels in some ways like the series just peeled off its parka, knocked the donut from its bat, and is ready to go. Through two games, the Cardinals batted .203. The Rangers hit .186. These were the teams that led their leagues in batting. Pujols and Molina aren’t on the board with a hit yet. Hamilton and Nelson Cruz(notes) have one single between them.
“It wasn’t easy,” said Andrus, the Rangers shortstop who nevertheless made the play of the postseason behind second base in Game 2. “I was super cold. You don’t feel sometimes your hands and ears.”
That’s been great.
Now, you’d suppose, here come the bat barrels.
“You would think so,” Berkman said, “but it’s tough to predict. The conditions will be more conducive to an offensive game, I’ll put it that way.”
Well put by Berkman, of course. And, if nothing else, it was just good to be talking again.
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