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10/17/06 7:04 PM ET

Hamstring hampering Cards' Pujols

Ability to run, hit for power affected; La Russa concerned

ST. LOUIS -- Albert Pujols continues to deal with soreness in his right hamstring, but the slugger was cleared to play for the Cardinals in Game 5 of the National League Championship Series on Tuesday night -- just as he would have been if the game had taken place on Monday.

Pujols has a right hamstring strain that affects his baserunning and potentially his power production at the plate as well. Manager Tony La Russa suggested on Monday that he might consider pinch-running for Pujols in an extreme case, but the slugger is in better shape than he was on Monday. Game 5 was pushed back by a day due to rain.

"He's better today," said head athletic trainer Barry Weinberg. "The day off did him good. He said he felt better yesterday and he said he felt better today, so he's ready to play."

Weinberg dismissed any notion that Pujols was close to being held out of the lineup. The club has faith that the 2005 NL Most Valuable Player will be able to play with enough restraint to keep the condition from becoming more severe.

"He's handling it," La Russa said. "He's played. If you go back over his career, he played through [plantar fasciitis, a foot injury]. He's had a lot of injuries and he's been tough about dealing with [them]. And he's smart about dealing with [them], which is even more important.

"He's probably a little bit better, but he's still going to play under control."

Pujols has battled hamstring pain at various points throughout his six Major League seasons. However, the condition has been somewhat more severe than usual in recent days.

"I'm fine. I'm dealing with it," Pujols said. "But when I cross that line, I don't want to make it a big deal, you know what I mean? Because I've done it before and I'm going to try to deal with it. I'm just going to be careful, man, and that's what tough.

"In the playoffs you need to take advantage of every situation, and I obviously need to be careful instead of being aggressive. This is not the regular season. This is the postseason and I want to give everything I can to help my team to win."

Weinberg said that the training staff has been paying extra attention to the situation for the past few days. La Russa acknowledged that he checks on Pujols every day while the hamstring is an issue.

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"When a guy has a problem like that, that's why you need to know about them," the manager said. "Then you see what level he's functioning. And he's still functioning where he can play. So you give it serious thought, but as long as he doesn't get worse [he will play]."

Entering Tuesday night, Pujols was 4-for-14 in the National League Championship Series with one double and no RBIs. That follows a Division Series in which he was 5-for-15 with a double, a home run and three runs batted in.

"I think he's got plenty of ability to hit the line drives that you've seen him hit," La Russa said. "That would be enough for us to win. The reason I wanted to make sure I mentioned it was that people are going to see him running under control and think that he's not hustling. He's just being told to be very careful.

"Any time you don't have to push it day in and day out, it's a break for him. But it's sore and he's going to have to be careful."

Matthew Leach is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.