Nyjer Morgan may have gone from rogue to rakishly fun in the transition from Washington to Milwaukee. His tweets and his tongue may make for fun fodder in Brewer Burg, but he had yet to learn that a big mouth works best when kept, or driven, shut, until Albert Pujols taught him and his the hard way Monday.
I don’t think Morgan will ever even think of referring to Pujols as anything but, perhaps, “sir,” and certainly not “Alberta,” after the St. Louis Cardinals evened up the National League Championship Series with a 12-3 thrashing for which Pujols did the bulk of the damage. At minimum, Morgan and his Beastly Modal mates may have learned the hard way what happens when you even think about pulling the mask off the Cardinals’s Monster Masher.
“Sometimes,” Morgan said, perhaps a little sheepishly, at least on his own loquacious terms, “you’re going to get spanked a little bit.”
A little bit? Pujols dropped a 4-for-5 night with three doubles, a mammoth home run, and five runs batted in on the evening. If Pujols was going to break out of his postseason run production cool-down, he chose the perfect place and way to do it.
If he keeps this up for the rest of the Cardinals’ postseason life, Pujols’s free agency price could reach heights similar to the arc of his first-inning bomb and, potentially, the depths of the Brewers’ despair.
Morgan and the Brewers can take their comfort in knowing Pujols didn’t get all seventeen Cardinal hits by himself, nor did he drive in all twelve runs. Assuming they can shake off the idea that he might as well have. From the moment he queued up Shaun Marcum’s 1-2 service and drove it into the second deck, the Brewers had to have known they were in for the very real prospect of payback.
Alberta, my auricle, Pujols seemed to say when he flipped his bat as the ball flew out. Take that, you smartass sonsabitches . . . This, one night after he’d opened the NLCS with a meek 1-for-4 outing that included hitting into an uncharacteristic double play with men on first and third, could only have felt like great relief. This, off a pitcher against whom he’d had a modest enough flight jacket until now (1-for-9 lifetime), could only have felt like a bubble bath.
“You learn from the mistakes you made,” Pujols told reporters after the game. “Yesterday was just so tought. Going to bed, I was just thinking about some of the opportunities I had to help our ballclub win. I turned that page, knowing that today was a new day.”
He got to abuse Marcum again in the top of the third. This time, he had two on the pond (Edwin Jackson, the Cardinals’ starting pitcher, with a leadoff single; Jon Jay, with a one-out single) when he drove a 2-2 service to the back of the yard, with Morgan making a grand leap trying to haul it down and missing by apparent inches on the dive, sending both home and staking the Cardinals to a 4-0 lead.
When Marco Estrada was sent in to spell Marcum for the fifth inning, Pujols didn’t exactly seem to mind losing one particular favourite pinata on the night. Estrada barely had time to regroup from Jay’s leadoff double when Pujols took two balls and then slammed a double of his own, not far from the same real estate where Jay’s traveled, sending Jay home easily enough. Kameron Loe spelled Estrada for the seventh and, this time, Uncle Albert had to settle for a ground-rule double bounding over the wall, just inside the right field line. And, for scoring when Matt Holliday singled him home, kicking off a four-run inning that featured back-to-back-to-back RBI singles (Yadier Molina, David Freese, Nick Punto) after Lance Berkman pushed Holliday over while beating out an infield hit.
Only Chris Narveson managed to get Pujols out, somehow, luring him into a grounder to second that might have bled through for another base hit otherwise. By then, it almost wouldn’t have mattered. The game was so far out of reach and the Brewers so seemingly spent at the plate, after laying that 9-6 Game One comeback bash on the Cardinals, that the Cardinal bullpen could have served them on tees and nothing much might have happened.
Rickie Weeks’s fourth-inning two-run bomb and Prince Fielder’s leadoff solo in the eighth were the best the Brewers could throw at the Cardinals this time around. They went 0-for-3 otherwise with men in scoring position and stranded eight runners otherwise on the night.
One of them might have gone the other way but for an apparent blown call at second base. Weeks rapped into a bases-loaded double play in the fifth, but several replays showed he’d beaten the play at first base. Had the right call come, the run would have counted and the Brewers—who had the National League’s best home record on the season and had won all four postseason home games to this point—might have shaved their deficit to a reasonably manageable four runs.
Might. Pujols made sure it wasn’t likely. The fact that he knocked Jim Edmonds out of the Cardinals’ record books—he passed Edmonds for the most postseason bombs and runs batted in in Cardinal history—and broke a 47 at-bat postseason bomb drought, the longest in his career, not to mention becoming only the fourth man in Show history to pick up four extra-base hits in a single postseason game (his distinguished company: Hideki Matsui, Bob Robertson, Frank Isbell) was merely the head on his beer.
The Cardinals figured before the game that the beer was brewing in earnest. “He had that look in his eye all night. He had it before the game,” Punto told reporters. “I saw it early. I saw it in batting practice. I just think it’s a quiet intensity about him. He doesn’t have a whole lot to say. He had it in BP when I was talking to him. Just focused, real focused. Intense.”
If Nyjer Morgan caught even one glimpse of that look before the game, he had to know that not even Tony Plush could put Pujols into the straitjacket some once thought had Morgan’s own name on it.