Albert Pujols answered for an accoutability error with a personal power play unseen in a World Series game since Reggie Jackson. As in, three mammoth enough home runs in the late innings. That only finished what was begun when an appropriately named umpire blew a fourth-inning call on the back end of a double play and answered for it after the game with a quiet mea-Kulpa.
Before Game Three got underway, Pujols’s image as a no-questions-asked team leader took a ferocious beating when he was conpicuously unavailable to reporters after Game Two, in the ninth inning of which he lunged for but couldn’t get a mitt on Jon Jay’s errant throw in on Elvis Andrus’s single, allowing Ian Kinsler—who’d led off with a dying quail into left center, then ended up on second base with a steal that reminded a lot of people of the way Dave Roberts began yanking the 2004 American League Championship Series inside out, before rounding third—to draw the throw in the first place.
Jay threw offline and knew it. Pujols lunged left to grab it while catcher Yadier Molina hollered to let the ball come through to the plate. The ball seemed to skip off the edge of Pujols’s mitt and reach for the third base line. Molina ran it down. Neither man faced reporters after the game to explain what happened on that play, though Jay, a rookie, did. The hammering Pujols took in the press over his post-game no-show almost made everyone forget what happened after Andrus gunned it alertly, at the moment the ball skipped Pujols’s mitt, and ended up on second, giving the Rangers men in scoring position with nobody out.
That’s when Tony La Russa pulled closer Jason Motte for veteran Arthur Rhodes, hoping to keep Josh Hamilton from seeing fastballs while keeping Andrus on second base. And that’s when Josh Hamilton lofted a game-tying sacrifice fly to right, La Russa lifted Rhodes for Lance Lynn, and Michael Young hit another sacrifice fly to send home Andrus with what proved the winning run.
You couldn’t necessarily blame Pujols for thinking it wasn’t entirely his fault. As was revealed in the aftermath, Pujols and Jay sat together in the dugout as the sides switched and commiserated on the bad play. It would have been nice, though, to hear Pujols’s take on the play, especially after Jay faced the press and flinched not one degree from responsibility. But while he took a press pummeling up one side and down the other until Game Three arrived, who knew it would end up being nearly erased by Saturday night’s mea-Kulpa and his own one-man bombing mission?
Again, the Cardinals held a 1-0 lead–Allen Craig, to this point merely the Cardinals’ most celebrated pinch hitter, opened with a launch inside the left field foul pole–when the real fun began. This time, however, it was the top of the fourth. And it only started when Pujols opened with a base hit and Matt Holliday bounced one up toward shortstop that had Area Code 6-4-3 stamped on the hide.
Except that the relay throw to first baseman Mike Napoli–usually a catcher, and one of the prime reasons the Rangers kept the American League West out of his former team’s (the Los Angeles Angels) hands in the first place–sailed high. Napoli grabbed the throw cleanly enough and managed to slap a tag on Holliday speeding up the line. He got the tag as Holliday was about a step and a half from the pad. First base umpire Ron Kulpa, however, called Holliday safe.
Kulpa said after the game he thought Holliday had beaten the tag, but watching a subsequent replay showed him how wrong he was. How drastically that call affects the Series outcome in the long run is almost impossible to say. It wasn’t quite as flagrant a blown call as the call which helped shove an earlier edition of Cardinals over another edge, in 1985, since nobody was anywhere near putting the Series into the bank. And the throw to Napoli was high enough to matter. Which may be the real reason why, except for the cursory protests, nobody among the Rangers was making anywhere near the noise the 1985 Cardinals proved to make to their own misfortune.
And even before The Prince Albert Show went on the air, the Cardinals made certain that Kulpa—a native St. Louisian, as things happen—couldn’t become a Texas scapegoat if he’d tried. By the time Pujols got finished with the evening performance, of course, almost everyone forgot just who Ron Kulpa was. Almost.
Lance Berkman singled to set up first and second. And David Freese, the most valuable player of the National League Championship Series, ripped a double to right, sending Berkman home and Holliday to third. Rangers manager Ron Washington then ordered starter Matt Harrison to walk Molina on the house to load up the bases for another potential double play.
And Washington got thisclose to getting what he’d hoped for when Jay bounced one up the first base line. Napoli picked it cleanly enough and aimed home, but the throw went wide enough to elude the evening’s Texas catcher, Yorvit Torrealba, allowing Berkman and Freese to come home unmolested and the Cardinals to take a 5-0 lead.
Michael Young (leadoff solo shot) and Nelson Cruz (the American League Championship Series MVP, with a two-run shot just clearing the right field seats railing) put the Rangers back to within two almost immediately in their half of the fourth. The Cardinals again threatened to put it out of reach almost at once, with Pujols scoring on a bases-loaded ground out and Molina whacking a two-run double down the left field line n the top of the fifth. And the Rangers again closing the deficit to two runs in the bottom of the fifth, with an RBI double (Young), an RBI single (Adrian Beltre), and a sacrifice fly (Napoli).
Then The Prince Albert Show hit the air in earnest. He sized up Alexi Ogando with one out and two on in the top of the sixth and hit a shoulder-high fastball off the rim of the second deck in left. He measured Mike Gonzalez with two out and one aboard in the top of the seventh and hit a waist-high fastball into the left center field bleachers. And, he measured Darren Oliver in the top of the ninth with nobody on and dropped a skidding sinkerball into the left field bleachers. Call it three, two, one if you must. Somewhere in the middle of the barrage Molina managed a sacrifice fly in the sixth and a two-run double in the eighth.
But who needed him, when Pujols was busy becoming only the third three-bomb Series game performer in Show history? Napoli managed another sacrifice fly, in the Texas seventh, but by then it was a sort of excuse-me exercise in futility. When Pujols is hanging five hits (it’s only happened once before in any World Series game, by Paul Molitor in Game One, 1982), three bombs, six runs batted in (that’s only happened twice in any Series game before: Bobby Richardson, Game Three 1962; Hideki Matsui, Game Six 2009), and fourteen total bases in a World Series game (never in the Series, only once in a postseason game: Bob Robertson, 1971 NLCS Game Two), everything else seems like that kind of an exercise. If he’d done it while the Rangers were winning the game, it still would have been the talk of the contest.
The only other man to go long three times in a World Series game? A fellow named Ruth. Against the Cardinals, in the 1923 Series.
“We’re talking about Albert Pujols,” said Cardinals second baseman Skip Schumaker. “A guy who should get mentioned with Babe Ruth and Reggie Jackson. 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.”
Pujols himself was his customarily modest self after the game. “I didn’t walk into the ballpark today thinking that I was going to have a night like this,” he told reporters, a night after his absence after a bad night left them somewhere between wondering and ready to burn him in effigy. In fact, he probably walked into the ballpark looking for some way to break an 0-for-6 slump in which he’d started the Series. “I walked into the ballpark with the attitude that I have every day—to help this ballclub to win.”
“We got beat tonight,” Washington said in the press room after the massacre was over and the Cardinals had taken the 2-1 Series edge. “He swung the long one. There wasn’t much we could do about it. I don’t know what combination we could have used to stop him.”
Now, of course, everyone, including perhaps the Rangers, will be watching to see what he does for an encore before this Series goes into the history book. Schumaker, for one, wouldn’t mind a bit if he can see and raise himself. “If he wants to take this Series over,” the second baseman crowed, “hey, be my guest.”