Albert Pujols destroys error-prone Rangers

Albert Pujols joined Babe Ruth and Reggie Jackson as players with three homers in one Series game. Ronald Martinez/Getty Images

ARLINGTON, Texas -- Well, Alexi Ogando did finally get Allen Craig out.

He did not, however, retire Albert Pujols.

Neither did Mike Gonzalez and Darren Oliver.

Pujols had perhaps the greatest single-game performance by a hitter in World Series history in leading the St. Louis Cardinals to a 16-7 victory over the Texas Rangers in Game 3, a performance so impressive that when he clocked his third home run of the game in the ninth inning, even Rangers fans had no choice but to stand and applaud.

"I see him on TV," Rangers manager Ron Washington said. "But I tell you, tonight was something special."

Pujols joined Babe Ruth and Reggie Jackson as the only players to hit three home runs in a World Series game. He joined Paul Molitor as the only player with five hits. He tied Bobby Richardson and Hideki Matsui with a record six RBIs. There is no cheering in the press box, but I do believe that looks of awe are allowed.

His first home run was the most impressive. Officially, Pujols’ mammoth blast in the sixth inning was measured at 423 feet, although I think they forgot to measure the second half of it. The ball bounced of the facing of the club level in left field, where 15 home runs have been hit at Rangers Ballpark since it opened in 1994. Fifteen reached the second deck? When did they move home plate farther away from the left-field fence?

The Cardinals led 8-6 and had two runners on with one out when Pujols stepped in after Ogando had struck out Craig on a 2-2, 97-mph fastball after setting him up with four sliders. Ogando tried to fire a 1-1 four-seam heater past Pujols, but he missed the target; instead of low and away, it was high and down the middle. Boom.

Here, some of the comments from our online chat:

Drew: 423, but the facing of the second deck got in the way.

Scott: This just in ... NASA reporting that the Pujols home run ball just hit the falling satellite, modifying its course and saving the planet.

Jim Caple: Paging Albert Pujols to the interview room. Pujols to the interview room.

Or, as former Rangers pitcher Brandon McCarthy tweeted, "My heavens -- I've tested the limits of that ballpark but I don't know that I've ever seen one like that."

It was a monumental blast, which Pujols followed up the next inning with another long home run to center field, off a high Mike Gonzalez fastball. With that home run he became just the seventh player to record at least three runs, four hits and five RBIs in a postseason game. Wait, make the six different players: He just did it against the Brewers in Game 2 of the NLCS.

And then in the ninth he tagged Oliver, to join Ruth, who hit three home runs in 1926 and 1928, and Reggie, who did it in the clinching Game 6 of 1977. He set a World Series record with 14 total bases. Since 1920, only 16 times has a player had five hits, three home runs and six RBIs in a game. And Pujols did it in the World Series.

When asked how it feels to join Ruth and Jackson, Pujols said, "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 to win."

It was a typical Pujols response. Matter of fact and not all that interesting. "To tell you the truth, I won't lie, I concentrate on numbers," he said. "This is not an individual game; this is a team effort. ... 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 may want to wait, but we don't have to: Wow, what a game.

* * * *

The final score of 16-7 and Pujols’ theatrics will relegate to the history books the top of the fourth, when the Cardinals scored four runs to take a 5-1 lead. Rangers fans won’t forget, however, and they’ll argue the game turned ugly only after first-base umpire Ron Kulpa missed a call on a double-play ball, when Mike Napoli tagged Matt Holliday on the back of the neck.

Yes, Kulpa missed the call. But it took the extra slo-mo replay to determine that. Washington wasn’t about to blame Kulpa either. “We had a chance to get out of that inning with just one run. We threw the ball around,” he said. Still, it was the wrong call. Holliday was out. Cue up the instant replay debate yet again. But consider the mistakes the Rangers made that inning:

  • Ian Kinsler failed to turn what should have been an easy 6-4-3 double play. So easy that Pujols had peeled out of the baseline. Kinsler makes that throw 99 times out of 100 and he’ll be the first to tell you that you can’t expect the umpire to bail you out.

  • Napoli then played first base like a catcher when he threw away Jon Jay’s chopper, allowing two runs to score instead of getting an easy force at home. This isn’t exactly a surprising development considering Napoli is a catcher playing first base, and you certainly question Washington's decision to have Michael Young DH (or just keep Napoli behind the plate with Mitch Moreland at first base).

  • Finally, while Matt Harrison certainly deserved better, he gave up three hits in the inning with two strikes; he couldn’t put batters away when he most needed.

It was an ugly inning, but the Rangers played a terrible game. Kinsler's bad throw wasn't ruled an error, since you can't "assume" a double play, but Kinsler and Elvis Andrus -- so terrific in Game 2 -- both booted routine grounders, giving Texas three errors. The one big defensive play in the game came in the bottom of the fourth from Cardinals left fielder Matt Holliday, who fired a perfect throw from near the foul line in medium-deep left field to nail Napoli at the plate trying to score on a fly ball. Perhaps Napoli could have slid to the outside part of the plate, but as he showed in the top of the inning, he isn't the most athletic of guys around. Holliday's throw preserved a 5-3 lead at the time.

A few other notes:

  • Ogando has to be considered a big concern now. After giving up the big hits to Craig in the first two games, he struggled for 35 pitches in Game 3, giving up three hits, two walks and four runs. Washington will undoubtedly go back to him, but with that pitch count he's unlikely to be available for more than an inning in Game 4.

  • Tony La Russa may have an issue with his own long man of choice, Fernando Salas. After throwing 68 games in the regular season and 9.2 innings in the first two rounds, Salas may be a little gassed. He gave up four hits and three runs while getting three outs in relief of Kyle Lohse.

  • Josh Hamilton hit one hard foul ball down the line in his first at-bat and lined to Pujols in the third, but did not look good running the bases. He singled in the fifth but later gingerly rounded third base, unable to score on a Young double down the line.

  • Considering Young and Napoli have both had misplays at first base, don't be surprised to see Moreland in the starting lineup for Game 4, with Napoli back behind the plate.