The Baseball Posts: Holy Albert Freaking Pujols by Adam Bunch

Over the last ten years, Albert Pujols has been the best player in baseball. Just about everyone seems to agree on that. Since his rookie season back in 2001, few players have been anywhere near as good as he is at hitting a baseball. Pujols' career .338 batting average is the highest by anyone playing the game today.  In his average season, he hits 42 home runs. That's just silly. His career OPS (on-base plus slugging, the quickest way to check a player's total offensive contribution) isn't just the best in the game today, it's the sixth best in the entire freaking history of the sport. The names ahead of him on that list belong to guys like Babe Ruth, Ted Williams and Lou Gehrig. Pujols is, without a doubt, one the greatest hitters baseball has ever seen.

But this has not been his best season. In fact, it has probably been his worst. His batting average during the regular season this year was lower than it has ever been before. So was his OPS. He was still waaaay better than the vast majority of major league baseball players, but his 2011 was definitely a bit of a disappointment. Especially for St. Louis Cardinals fans. After a decade with the club, he will be a free agent this winter, and it looks like he'll probably sign with a new team — in a city where he will quite possibly be paid more than any other professional athlete has ever been paid. This year was his chance to say goodbye to St. Louis in style.

Still, even with Pujols having an off year, the Cardinals did manage to squeak into the playoffs on the last day of the season. And though they've been underdogs every step of the way, they knocked the Philadelphia Phillies and the Milwaukee Brewers out to make it to the World Series. So there's still a chance for a storybook ending.

But in the first two games of the Series, Pujols didn't do much to help. Both games were low-scoring pitching duels. The Cardinals won the first one 3-2. Pujols got a walk, but no hits. In the second game, it looked like the Cardinals were going to win again: they were up 1-0 in the 9th inning. But the Texas Rangers came back to win in dramatic fashion. This time, not only did Pujols fail to get a hit, but he missed catching a ball he should have caught during the Rangers' comeback.

The TV announcers would not shut up about the error. And after the game, reporters looking for quotes couldn't find Pujols in the clubhouse. The next morning, some of them tore into him for it: said it showed a lack of leadership, a lack of accountability.  Pujols thought they were being ridiculous. "That’s not fair," he complained later that day. "I think with you guys, I have to walk on eggshells... What do you want, me to wait for 40 minutes for you guys? I mean I was in the kitchen getting something to eat."

The superstar was clearly peeved. And as Saturday night's Game Three drew near, people started to wonder if the controversy might wake the sleeping giant. He was due for a big night, they figured, and now he had something to prove.

As it turned out, Albert Pujols would have one of the greatest offensive performances in World Series history. Maybe the greatest. In his at first bat, he grounded out. But in his second, he singled. Next time up, he singled again — and scored a couple of batters later. His fourth time up, he swung at a 96 mile-per-hour fastball that was high and out of the strike zone, but straight down the middle. He hit it so hard that by the time the ball landed, the TV guys had already found three different phrases to describe it. "That is hammered into left," is how Joe Buck called it, with Tim McCarver offering a faint, "Oh my gosh."

"That ball is absolutely murdered."

It bounced off the facing of the second deck 431 feet away. The Ballpark in Texas is infamous for giving up a lot of home runs. But in more than 1,400 games that have been played there, only 15 balls have ever been hit all the hell the way back there.

In the next inning: his second home run, 424 feet, the ball soaring over the fence in left-centre. Suddenly, with one more at bat to come, Pujols was only one home run shy of tying the record. Just two players had ever hit three homers in a World Series game. One was Reggie Jackson, Mr. October, the Yankee outfielder widely hailed as the greatest World Series contributor of all-time. The other was Babe freaking Ruth.

Pujols' third home run went 420 feet. It tied the record for the most home runs in one World Series game, the most hits in one World Series game, the most runs driven in in one World Series game. He finished with more total bases than anyone had ever had. The Cardinals won 16-7. The next day, Sports Illustrated would point out that the total distance of Pujols' home runs was about the same as the height of a small mountain.

Three swings. A mountain.

The way we'll tell the story of what happened on Saturday night, of course, an angry Pujols took things up a notch to silence his critics. But actually, in 150 years of baseball, no one has found any real evidence that hitters can up their game in big situations. If anything, they say you need to be calm, your swing relaxed, your mind free of distractions. So the truth of what happened, it seems, is kind of even more impressive: Albert Pujols is just really really really freaking good. When you're that good for that long that consistently, you're ready to take advantage on those lucky nights when everything comes together. Pujols had, after all, already hit three home runs in a game four times before. The fifth time came during the World Series. In baseball, as in life, when you're veryvery good and veryvery lucky, you might just make history:


Main photo: Albert Pujols

The Baseball Posts are series of posts about, um, well, baseball. You'll find them all here. Adam Bunch is the Editor-in-Chief of the Little Red Umbrella and the creator of the Toronto Dreams Project. You can read his posts here, follow him on Twitter here, or email him at


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