Pujols-Marcum no longer a fair fight
MILWAUKEE -- At this point, if Albert Pujols vs. Shaun Marcum were a boxing match, it would be stopped, in the first round.
Actually, it would be stopped at the weigh-in.
Monday night in Game 2 of the National League Championship Series, your concern for safety was not directed at Marcum himself. You were worried primarily about the innocent civilians sitting in the second deck of the left-field bleachers at Miller Park.
The home run that Pujols hit off Marcum in the first inning rocketed into that area with ultra-high velocity and what could have been deadly force. The citizens, the fans, the ticket-buyers, they had no crash helmets, no air bags that deployed in front of them, no suitable protection of any sort. Some of them were small children. Some of them were senior citizens. What chance would they have against this Pujols-propelled missile? Even people in peak condition in the prime of their lives would have no guarantee of safety in perilous circumstances such as these.
Pujols and the St. Louis Cardinals defeated Marcum and the Milwaukee Brewers, 12-3, on Monday night to even the NLCS at 1-1. Marcum was very good for five months. But in September and now October, he has been at the other end of the good-bad spectrum. In two postseason starts, he has an ERA of 12.97.
Not that long ago, when Marcum was at the top of his finesse/command game, Pujols was 1-for-9 against him. But that was then. This is October.
After the home run, Pujols faced Marcum again with two on and one out in the third. Pujols hit a double off the wall in center, and Nyjer Morgan nearly maimed himself trying to make a play on it.
Pujols hit two more doubles off two more Milwaukee pitchers as the game wore on and wore out the Brewers' staff. These were at least hit the opposite way -- the last one, in fact, down the right-field line. Perhaps Pujols, with five RBIs and four extra-base hits, was becoming arm-weary.
This is the best all-around player of the last decade. As a hitter, Pujols was in the living-legend category well before he reached age 30. He was far from the only Cardinal swinging the bat well Monday night, but he pointed the way, he set the tone and then he led the charge.
"I think Albert goes in every game and he works his stroke," manager Tony La Russa said. "If he's a little bit off, he's good. And if it's right on, he's great."
Chris Narveson actually retired Pujols on a grounder to second in the eighth. The Miller Park crowd produced an ovation after that out, which may have reflected a level of sarcasm, but also could have simply indicated relief, as in: "The danger has passed, children. You can come out of hiding now."
Pujols is the best. But this is a difficult game for the best of hitters and earlier this season, Marcum, working at the top of his form, found a way to get him out eight of nine times. But now? With Pujols even more locked in than usual, and Marcum locked into what amounts to a six-week slump, this is simply not anything like a fair fight.
Pujols was asked Monday night if he and the rest of the Cardinals had now seen Marcum often enough that they could successfully make adjustments against him.
"As a hitter, as a ballclub, that's our job, to make an adjustment," Pujols said. "Obviously that's what we did. And I can't share with you guys the secret of what we go through in our meetings, what we talk, that's pretty much our own business.
"But we were able to execute. He left a couple of balls up and we took advantage, and I just got part of that, just like everybody else on the team."
What reduces Marcum's chances of recovery is the Brewers' pleasant although inaccurate insistence that he really isn't getting hit that hard, that he's just pitching in bad luck.
That is precisely the wrong way to handle this crisis. What you have to say instead is: "Hey, Shaun. Those balls that Pujols crushed off you? They hurt an outfielder and a little old lady from Winneconne. You should try to do something different."
Milwaukee manager Ron Roenicke is generally a very reassuring sort. But Monday he said something that could strike terror into the hearts of Brewers fans: "We're going to need Shaun to do well. He's going to pitch again in this series."
At this juncture that is a scary thought for Wisconsinites. But it is still not as scary for Brewers-backers as seeing Albert Pujols coming to the plate with Cardinals colleagues on the bases and something serious at stake. And Pujols coming to the plate with a slumping Shaun Marcum on the hill? Oh, doctor, call the bullpen and/or the ambulance.
Mike Bauman is a national columnist for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.