Locked-in Pujols puts on a historic display
ARLINGTON, Texas – North Texas has its way of lookin’ at things, and then of puttin’ ‘em.
And right about the time the Texas Rangers were gettin’ plum pole-axed Saturday night on Nolan Ryan Expressway, as they were witnessing and participating in one of the great offensive performances – if not the greatest – in World Series history, they’d bought themselves another folksy idiom:
They’d spent the better part of four hours on the sweet spot of Pujols’ 34-inch, 32-ounce Marucci AP5 bat.
They’d gone in off the plate and away. They’d come with fastballs sneaking up on the high 90s. They’d bounced sliders and slung cutters.
And yet by the time they were cleaning up after Game 3, as they were sorting through who threw what when, and why, and tending to the casualties in a 16-7 whippin’ at the hands of the St. Louis Cardinals, what resonated was five hittable pitches, and what Albert Pujols did to them.
One of the premier hitters of his generation and beginning to court comparisons to the legends of the game, Pujols on Saturday night had five hits, three of them home runs, over five consecutive at-bats. He drove in six runs. He accounted for 14 total bases, a World Series record.
It was the kind of game Reggie Jackson once had. The kind Babe Ruth twice had.
He’d been hitless in his first eight plate appearances in the series, going along with the two-game theme of a taut and pitching-heavy showdown. He’d wandered into a dust-up off the field, a media-related affair that was supposed to reflect his character. Maybe it did and maybe it didn’t, and maybe it doesn’t matter, because Albert Pujols is a ballplayer, and four or five times a night they stand by themselves in a chalked rectangle and the world sees them for exactly who they are.
His forearms flared. His eyes – dead brown – stared. His quads gripped the earth.
For all anyone really needs to know, that is Albert Pujols.
Single, single, three-run homer, two-run homer, solo homer. Ballgame.
The rest, anything beyond the barrel of his bat (or perhaps just beyond the reach of his mitt), is chatter, certainly as far as Pujols is concerned.
“It’s not about me,” he insisted. “This is about our ballclub. I just thank God that I was able to contribute tonight and help our ballclub to win, and hopefully I can do that tomorrow and the rest of the series.”
Said one friend of Pujols when the evening was done, and the Rangers were counting their afflicted and the St. Louis Cardinals were counting their victory, “This is what happens when he gets pissed.”
Pujols, of course, wouldn’t admit to such a thing. Just doing his job. Shutting out the world, tracking a fastball, putting a ferocious swing on it, sucking the air out of the joint.
“What can I say?” he said. “To tell you the truth, I just come and get ready to play. I’ve been in that situation before, where people just blow things out [of proportion], and it is what it is, and you can’t really think about that. My main focus is we are in the World Series.”
One after another, hour after hour, it seemed the night was filled with Pujols’ flat-footed and grave home-run trot. He’d come to life with a single in the fourth inning and another in the fifth. In the sixth, he turned around a 96-mph fastball and shot it off the façade below the club level in left field. Alexi Ogando(notes), the pitcher, was supposed to be above giving up bombs such as those. That ball traveled 423 feet. Could have been miles. In the seventh, Pujols got Mike Gonzalez, hit that 406 feet. And in the ninth, Oliver threw a fastball that carried 397 feet and over the fence in left.
Remarked one wry observer, “They’re wearin’ him down.”
From the fourth to the seventh innings, Pujols batted in every one. In those four at-bats, he looked over 15 pitches. Seven were strikes, though plate umpire Alfonso Marquez threw in an eighth that was several inches off the plate, the one that for a moment appeared to pain Pujols, so let’s call it eight.
Half of those eight, Pujols crushed. Simply crushed. Two left the ballpark, one nearly literally so. He rested in the eighth inning, then got after it in the ninth. No one had strung together four hits over four consecutive innings in the World Series before.
Welcome to Texas, where the men are men and the pitchers are scared.
Round about the time a baseball struck the cement ribbon in left field, the one that separates a set of glass windows from the club level, he started to gain on Jackson, who homered on three consecutive pitches in the 1977 World Series, and Ruth, who’d hit three in a game twice, in 1926 and 1928.
After two games of every pitcher making every pitch, or near enough, the series had devolved into needing one man to make one pitch, preferably to a St. Louis Cardinal, narrower still to Pujols.
It didn’t happen in Game 3.
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Few have like him, and certainly not over a single game, in late October, where only Jackson and Ruth have tread.
“It’s pretty special,” Pujols conceded. “Those guys are great players, and to do it at that level and on this stage is amazing. At the same time, I didn’t walk into the ballpark today thinking that I was going to have a night like this. I walked to the ballpark with the attitude that I have every day to help this ballclub win, and I was able to do that, defensively and offensively.”
Yeah, that is Albert Pujols. And very few others.
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