Commentary

Albert Pujols messes with Texas

Three homers. Six RBIs. A history-making, series-changing performance in Game 3

Updated: October 24, 2011, 10:59 AM ET
By Jayson Stark | ESPN.com

ARLINGTON, Texas -- This isn't a tale about how many zillions of dollars Albert Pujols is about to add to his 401(k) this winter.

This isn't a tale about whether Albert Pujols owes it to the American public to talk to media knuckleheads like us after a World Series game.

No, this is just a tale about what really matters at times like this -- the tale of how the greatest hitter in our solar system took an electrifying journey into the history books on a crazy Saturday evening in October.

How do we digest the magnitude of what we just witnessed? How do we make our brains process the unprecedented show that Pujols just unfurled in Game 3 of a World Series that might be his final act as a Cardinal?

Three home runs -- in a World Series game? Five hits -- in a World Series game? Six RBIs and 14 total bases -- in a World Series game?

Who does this? That's what we ask ourselves.

[+] EnlargeAlbert Pujols
Matthew Emmons/US PresswireAlbert Pujols (three homers, six RBIs, five hits, 14 total bases) was the star of the show in Game 3.

Well, nobody does this. That would be the correct answer. Or at least no one else ever has. Not all in one night, at least.

But now Sir Albert has officially turned this into HIS World Series, with a breathtaking night in Texas, as his team grabbed hold of this Series with a 16-7 Game 3 mashing of the Rangers. And now this night gets to reverberate through history, floating on a cloud where only the most fabled World Series games ever staged get to float.

Where does it rank? Where does it stand? All we need to do is recite the list of men who have hit three home runs in a World Series game -- Reginald M. Jackson and George Herman Bambino Ruth, period -- and you instantly know exactly where it stands.

It stands with the legends. And now, so does the man responsible for it.

"We're talking about Albert Pujols, a guy who SHOULD get mentioned with Babe Ruth and Reggie Jackson," said teammate Skip Schumaker. "So I'm glad this happened in a World Series game, so he could get mentioned with those guys, because I really do believe that, at the end of his career, he really should be mentioned for the greatest player of all time -- right-handed or left-handed."

We don't know yet, obviously, what's ahead for this man. We don't know where he'll rank at the end of his career. We don't even know what team he'll be playing for the rest of his career. Come to think of it, we don't even know what he might have in store for us in his next game in this World Series.

But we know this: We're going to be seeing those three majestic swings he put on three defenseless baseballs Saturday night for the rest of our lives -- on the flat screens in our living rooms, on the DVRs in our brains -- because you should never be permitted to forget nights like this one. And our memory banks guarantee that you never will.

Asked if he expected to be watching the highlight reels of this show many years down the road, the guy who hit behind Pujols on this night, Matt Holliday, never even blinked.

"I don't see why not," he said. "When you get three homers, five hits and [you're] one of the greatest players of all time, yeah. That's how it works."

Oh, yeah. That is, indeed, precisely how it works. Not that every other player in this Cardinals clubhouse completely understood the historic nature of what had just taken place in this ballpark Saturday night. But we can guarantee that Holliday did.

That's because he wasn't just an eyewitness to history. He was also an earwitness.

After Pujols' final home run had finished clattering around the seats in left in the top of the ninth, Holliday jogged out to his place in left field for the bottom of the ninth and realized he was hearing a voice bellowing practically out of the heavens, putting it all in perspective.

OK, so it wasn't really from the heavens. It was from the auxiliary press box, located just above him in left field. But as he settled into position, Holliday could hear the Rangers' public-relations staff announcing to the press box all the amazing stuff Pujols had just finished accomplishing:

• Three home runs. You know about that already. Third player in World Series history to hit three in a game. Fourth three-homer GAME in World Series history (because Babe Ruth did it twice), and the eighth three-homer game in postseason history -- including one by Adrian Beltre earlier in this same postseason.

• Five hits in a game. Only happened one time before in a World Series -- Paul Molitor (1982, Game 1).

• Six RBIs in a game. Happened only twice before in a World Series -- Bobby Richardson (1960, Game 3) and Hideki Matsui (2009, Game 6).

• Fourteen total bases in a game. Never happened before in a World Series game. Ever. Happened only one other time in any postseason game (Bob Robertson, 1971 NLCS, Game 2).

• But now all of it put together, that 6-4-5-6, 3-HR, 14-TB box score line: Nobody had ever done ALL OF THAT in any postseason game -- and no one had even done it in a regular-season game in more than seven years, since a Victor Martinez eruption on July 16, 2004. That was more than 16,000 games ago.

"Standing out in left field, you know, I can hear the guy announce all the numbers," Holliday reported. "Everything that you guys [in the press box] hear, I can hear, too: 1926 (Ruth's first three-homer game). … Paul Molitor is the last guy to get five hits. … I heard them reading all of that off. So I've had about an hour to put it all in perspective. And it's pretty good."

Well, it seemed pretty good -- pretty mind-blowing -- to everybody but the man who did it all, anyhow.

"This is not an individual game. This is a team effort," said Pujols afterward, while conducting his entire postgame media session at his what's-the-big-deal finest. "That's what I try to do every day, to go out there and help my ballclub to win however I can. Hopefully, at the end of my career, I can look back and say, 'Wow. What a game it was in Game 3, in 2011.' But as of right now, it's great to get this win and just move on."

Uhhh, maybe he's ready to move on. But for the rest of us, this might take a while.

This, after all, was no ordinary game. It featured, among other things, a 2½-inning stretch you may never see again -- with any luck.

Starting in the top of the fourth inning, the Cardinals scored four times. Then the Rangers scored three times. Then the Cardinals scored three in the fifth -- and so did the Rangers. So the Cardinals were forced to put up yet another three-spot in the top of the sixth. Yeah, that's five consecutive half-innings of three runs or more -- for the first time in World Series history.

An incredible 25 hitters reached base in those five half-innings. Seven different pitchers fired 148 pitches. And that had something to do with why it took just short of an hour and 50 minutes for them to lug through a mere 2½ innings.

Once upon a time, Greg Maddux could zip through all nine innings in an hour and 50 minutes. These guys couldn't even get through three innings.

"Hey, they were quick, weren't they?" Holliday deadpanned. "It felt like they were going to score all night. It felt like eight [runs] wasn't going to be enough. And 10 wasn't going to be enough. And 14 wasn't going to be enough."

But then, that's where his man Albert came in.

The Cardinals had had two different five-run leads shrink down to two runs (8-6) as Pujols settled in to hit in the top of the sixth. The Rangers had just brought on the guy who was supposed to be their secret bullpen weapon in this postseason, Alexi Ogando. And this game was suddenly teetering in the balance.

Not for long.

[+] EnlargeAlbert Pujols
Matthew Emmons/US PresswireAlbert Pujols had a solo shot, a two-run shot and a three-run shot.

There were two men on base and one out as Pujols rocked in the box, awaiting a 1-1 pitch from Ogando. The pitch he saw coming was a 96 mph rocketball, nearly shoulder high, on the inner half of the plate.

Very few living humans could even put a pitch like that in play. Sir Albert Pujols promptly tomahawked it off the facing of the second deck, just above the auxiliary press box in left. It was estimated at 432 feet. It felt like about 932 feet.

"It's hard to hit a ball that far," Holliday marveled, "let alone off a guy throwing 96, letter-high. Not a lot of guys, if any, can do that."

"At the time," said Pujols' general manager, John Mozeliak, "it felt like the momentum was starting to shift. That one moved the needle."

By the time that ball fell to Earth and Pujols had finished his orbit around the bases, this game already felt different. A two-run game had turned back into a five-run game. And from that moment on, the story of this night began shifting -- away from the pitching-and-defense train wreck those three interminable innings had become and toward something else. Something bigger. Something unforgettable:

Another spectacular edition of The Albert Show.

This wasn't the first game of this postseason that Pujols had pretty much grabbed around the collar and taken over. In fact, he's now had a game of four hits or more in all three rounds. And guess what? Nobody has done that, either.

But this was an all-timer. This was special.

An inning later, he was back at the dish against left-hander Mike Gonzalez. This time, there was one man on. This time, Pujols pounced on a 93 mph first-pitch fastball, just about waist-high, and sent it flying through the night, 424 feet, into the seats in deep left-center, just to the center-field side of the Cardinals' bullpen. Astounding.

It was Pujols' fourth hit in four innings -- one apiece in the fourth, fifth, sixth and seventh. And we apologize if you've heard this before, but, yep, nobody had ever done THAT in a World Series game, either.

"That's the thing," said Mozeliak. "It wasn't just the historic performance. It was the timing of it. Every time you needed an answer, there was an answer."

But the grand finale was still to come. There were two outs in the ninth at the time. It was a 15-7 game. There would have been just about no other reason to be paying attention to any of this by then -- except that it was Albert Pujols' turn to hit.

So don't touch that clicker.

The count ran to 2-2. Then Pujols fouled off a pitch from Darren Oliver that floated toward the stands behind first base -- and dropped barely beyond the reach of first baseman Michael Young. It was hard not to think to yourself: "Uh-oh. Don't give THIS guy one more swing."

"I looked at him," said Holliday, who was standing in the on-deck circle, "and he kind of smiled, like that could have been the third one. So then he did it -- on the next pitch."

Yessir, they gave him that that one more swing -- and Sir Albert knew just what to do with it, squashing an 89 mph sinker deep into the left-field lower deck.

And into history.

Pujols watched it soar through the Texas sky, then trotted, head down, around the bases. You would love to know what he was thinking -- what he was REALLY thinking -- on that exhilarating trip around the bases. But this is a man who would never, ever let any of us in that deep.

The Babe … and Reggie … and now Albert.

The closest Pujols got to gushing, even a little, was when he conceded that "those guys are great players, and to do it at that level, and on this stage, is amazing. But … 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 into the ballpark with the attitude that I have every day -- to help this ballclub to win."

Well, if that's what he was thinking, he has certainly put the Cardinals in great position to win this World Series. Of the last 11 teams to win Game 3 after being tied at a game apiece, 10 of them went on to win it all.

Now, after that performance, they only need to win two more. So if their man Albert could just find a way to do this every day, he could make this easy on the rest of them. But don't laugh too hard over that prospect -- because his teammates wouldn't put it past him.

"It could happen," Schumaker said with a grin. "You never know. It's been to that point for 10 years. He's a guy who can carry you all the way through the playoffs. And we're not afraid to hop on his back and ride on. …

"Actually," said Schumaker, with a knowing chuckle, "I think a few guys around here wouldn't mind hopping on Albert Pujols' back right now.

"So if he wants to take this Series over, hey, be my guest."

Jayson Stark is a senior writer for ESPN.com. His latest book, "Worth The Wait: Tales of the 2008 Phillies," was published by Triumph Books and is available in a new paperback edition in bookstores and online. Click here to order a copy.

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Senior Writer, ESPN.com