Performer of the Game: Cards slugger Pujols
First baseman racks up three homers, five hits, six RBIs
ARLINGTON -- From his perch in left field Saturday, Matt Holliday found himself within earshot of the intermittent announcements floating through an auxiliary press area at Rangers Ballpark. As the night wore on, and the announcements grew more frequent, Holliday heard the context of Albert Pujols' achievements crackling through the speakers.
He heard that Pujols became just the third player in history to hit three home runs in a World Series game, joining Babe Ruth and Reggie Jackson with his performance in Game 3. He heard that Pujols tied a World Series record with five hits, matched another with six RBIs, eclipsed one with 14 total bases and set still another with hits in four consecutive innings.
"I've had about an hour to put it in perspective," Holliday said afterward. "It's pretty good."
It is, all understatement aside, perhaps the greatest individual offensive performance in World Series history. With three home runs and five hits, Pujols added to his own considerable legend, crushing Rangers pitching in pacing a 16-run onslaught. He did things that have never before been done.
"I didn't walk into the ballpark today thinking that I was going to have a night like this," Pujols said. "I walked to the ballpark with the attitude that I have every day."
He walked afterward trailed by cameramen and boom microphones, shuffling to his personal press conference in socks and shower sandals. Almost mortal, to the naked eye. And yet what Pujols did in Game 3 was less mortal than cartoonish.
His first home run threatened to short-circuit the same speakers that later caught Holliday's ear. Hit off Alexi Ogando, the blast struck the facing of Rangers Ballpark's club level, nearly putting Pujols in Mark McGwire's company as one of two opposing players ever to reach that porch.
His second shot flew to center field. His third, back to left. And with that, Pujols joined Ruth in 1926 and 1928 and Jackson in 1977 as the only players to hit three home runs in a single World Series game.
Those games have already assumed their places in baseball history. There is reason to believe that Saturday's will receive similar treatment.
Spin to Win
"That's something I'm going to be able to tell my kids and grandkids," Cardinals reliever Lance Lynn said. "That I actually witnessed that in person."
As accomplished as Pujols already was given his standing as one of the greatest right-handed hitters -- if not the greatest right-handed hitter -- of all time, his career perhaps lacked a defining moment. October had never been a problem for Pujols, who carried the Cardinals to the pennant in 2004 and steadied them to a world championship in 2006. But outside of his mammoth home run off Astros closer Brad Lidge in Game 5 of the 2005 National League Championship Series, Pujols' postseason achievements lacked definition on a stage as grand as this.
No longer. Until Saturday, no player had ever recorded four hits, two home runs, and five RBIs in one World Series game. Pujols amassed five, three and six, respectively.
Now, the centerpiece of his career is clear. Find a more defining moment than the ninth inning Saturday: Pujols crossing home plate, slowing his trot, his silver necklace jangling with every step, his feet stopping, his index fingers pointing to the sky, his teammates good-naturedly refusing to speak to him in the dugout, both understanding and hardly grasping the gravity of it all.
It is entirely possible, several Cardinals said afterward, that they had just witnessed the greatest night in the career of the greatest teammate they will ever have.
"He's a better hitter than Babe Ruth and Reggie Jackson, and there's no doubt about it," Lance Berkman said. "I'm dead serious. Babe Ruth, as great as he is, played in an all-white league. There were no Latino players, it was a diluted talent pool, guys didn't throw as hard. We're talking about the best athletes that there have ever been in the sport, the best talent pool that there's ever been, and he's doing it. He's the greatest."
"He's the best player in the game," Rangers outfielder Nelson Cruz said. "If anybody is going to do that, it's him."
Afterward, Rangers manager Ron Washington admitted that he may shy away from pitching to Pujols going forward if he can help it -- and who could blame him? By the time Pujols came to bat in the ninth inning Saturday, the Cardinals were so far ahead that he considered asking manager Tony La Russa to pinch-hit for him.
"It's not about me," Pujols kept saying afterward, and yet it was. In the clubhouse, teammates yelled out his name without prompting, without Pujols even in earshot. They gushed about his achievements.
"It's deserving," Holliday said. "It fits. This guy's a once-in-a-generation type player. It almost seems like it should happen that way. He should do something in a World Series like this."
Universally flowed the praise, merely two days the national media vilified Pujols for not addressing his key error in Game 2. Debates have raged on both sides of that issue, and yet years from now, few will remember that Pujols did not speak publicly following Game 2. All will remember what he accomplished in Game 3.
La Russa, who has won two World Series and managed each of the first baseman's 11 big league seasons, struggled when asked whether it was the greatest single performance of Pujols' career.
"I mean, this is ..." La Russa said. He stopped.
"Yeah, I'd say it's ..." He stopped again.
"Well, I think the best thing to do is you make that statement and ask somebody, 'OK, show me one that was better,'" La Russa finally mustered. "I think it would be hard to do."
In that sense, Pujols redefined not only baseball's history, but his own.
"Hopefully at the end of my career I can look back and say, 'Wow, what a game it was in Game 3 in 2011,'" Pujols said. "But as of right now, it's great to get this win and just move on."