10/06/2002 01:03 am ET
Pujols delivers with bat, arm
Becomes first to record two outfield assists in NLDS
By Chris Haft / MLB.com
ST. LOUIS -- Everybody knows that St. Louis' Albert Pujols, 2001 National League Rookie of the Year and 2002 Most Valuable Player candidate, is an outstanding hitter.
As an outfielder, Pujols is considered ... an outstanding hitter. In fairness, he hasn't had much time to refine his defensive technique at any position, since he plays third base and first, as well as left field. This year, Pujols committed nine errors in 101 games in left, recording a .972 fielding percentage. That won't win him any Gold Glove awards.
But Pujols may have started to build a new reputation during the Cardinals' three-game Division Series sweep of the Diamondbacks.
After apprehending Arizona's fleet Junior Spivey at home plate with a one-hop throw from left field in the first inning of the Cardinals' 12-2 victory in Tuesday's Game 1, Pujols repeated the feat Saturday, throwing out Chris Donnels in the fifth inning with another strong one-hop peg. That preserved the Cardinals' 4-3 lead and helped them proceed to a 6-3 decision.
Pujols became the first player to record two outfield assists in NL Division Series play.
Donnels, a pinch-hitter who drew a one-out walk from St. Louis starter Andy Benes, was trying to score from second base on Steve Finley's single. As he did on Tuesday, Pujols played the ball crisply and flawlessly before unleashing a powerful throw to catcher Mike Matheny.
"With two outs, I knew (Donnels) would be running," Pujols said. "All I tried to do was catch the ball before I threw it."
Pujols knows he still has room for improvement as an outfielder.
"I'm still learning," he said. "I go through my (pregame) routine; I know how I can help my team. When I play outfield, my job is to try to play defense. I play it hard, the way I'm supposed to play."
Of course, Pujols also contributed offensively. He walked and scored St. Louis' first run in the second inning and lined an RBI single in the third, helping him finish the Division Series with a .300 average (3-for-10).
In a way, Pujols' presence in left field doubly helped the Cardinals. Not using him at third base enabled manager Tony La Russa to play Miguel Cairo there instead. Cairo, whose RBI single won Thursday's Game 2, sparkled again Saturday, finishing 3-for-3 with two RBIs.
La Russa refused to take credit for his personnel decisions.
"I mean, Miguel could have taken over and Albert could have thrown the ball over the roof," La Russa said. "They're good players. All you try to do when you manage is put the guys in the right spot, but I never take it personally if somebody does well. It wasn't me. I mean, it really wasn't that tough a move."
In fact, Pujols would have made the same choice.
"It paid off for us," he said "I think after that big hit Cairo had Thursday, you had to play him again."
Chris Haft is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.