Tag:Albert Pujols
Posted on: October 28, 2011 11:22 pm
 

Cardiac Cardinals win 11th World Series title

ST. LOUIS -- Forget "Go crazy, folks." This year, this autumn, this team, boil legendary broadcaster Jack Buck's famous phrase down even more than that. Strip it down to its base. To the one word.

Crazy.

The St. Louis Cardinals are World Series champions in a season in which things looked so bleak, they didn't even send advance men out to scout potential playoff opponents.

Champions in a season in which they were 10 1/2 games out of a playoff slot on Aug. 25.

Champions after general manager John Mozeliak and manager Tony La Russa in late August all but apologized to the Knights of the Cauliflower Ear -- a local civic club that meets to promote area sports -- for a lousy season.

Champions after whipping the Rangers 6-2 an anticlimactic Game 7 following a sensational Game 6 to win the 11th World Series title in franchise history, but please don't tell anyone around here about anticlimactic.

Kids, all that stuff your parents tell you about hard work and never giving up. ...

All true.

Ask Chris Carpenter, who was sensational in the first World Series Game 7 since 2002, working on short rest and extra guts.

Ask Albert Pujols, he of the record 14 total bases in Game 3, and David Freese, who delivered a two-run triple and game-winning homer in Game 6 that will be discussed for generations around here.

Ask Lance Berkman and Matt Holliday and a bullpen that provided the blood and guts that powered the Cardinals through one must-win situation after another during the month of September.

On a chilly Friday evening that pulled the curtain on a sensational final month to close the 2011 season, Carpenter held the Rangers to two runs and six hits over six innings.

It was only the second time in his career that he worked on short rest. The first? Game 2 of the Division Series in Philadelphia, when Carpenter was knocked around for five hits and four runs over just three innings.

La Russa said before Game 7 that he thought Carpenter learned something from his one other short rest outing. He wouldn't say what it was, but it was clear Carpenter did. Just one more example of the trust La Russa places in his elite players, and they in him.

That, along with the talent, has been an essential ingredient in the Cardinals' three World Series appearances since 2004, and two titles.

Posted on: October 26, 2011 7:55 pm
 

Pujols discusses fateful hit-and-run call

ST. LOUIS -- For the first time since free-lancing a hit-and-run call that backfired badly on the Cardinals in the seventh inning of Game 5, Albert Pujols discussed the play on a gloomy afternoon at Busch Stadium.

"I've been on this club for 11 years, and that's not the first time I've put on a hit-and-run," Pujols said. "I know there's been a lot of discussion of why did he put the play on and why didn't he swing.

"The pitch was high and away. I wouldn't have been able to touch it. And now I would have been 0 and 2 and you don't want to be in that situation."

Instead, Allen Craig was easily thrown out attempting to steal second on the play and, in a 2-2 game, the Cardinals not only didn't have a runner in scoring position, but the Rangers immediately moved to intentionally walk Pujols with first base open.

Manager Tony La Russa, during a passionate defense of Pujols that lasted four minutes a day earlier, said that Pujols has had the freedom to call a play like that hit-and-run for a long, long time because he trusts Pujols. He also said with Rangers reliever Alexi Ogando pitching Pujols so carefully, he would have told Pujols not to do it had the slugger asked him in the dugout before the at-bat -- which often happens.

"They're being very careful with him," La Russa said. "You can't really expect the ball to be around the plate. [Ogando] has a live arm."

Pujols is not the only star player who is given the freedom to use his judgment to make a call like the one he did Monday. La Russa noted some of the great base-stealers who have the green light and asked if you remove that just because it's the playoffs.

In Cleveland when the Indians had their championship teams of the 1990s, Roberto Alomar, Omar Vizquel and Kenny Lofton had signals and often would call plays among each other. In Texas, Micahel Young has done it.

"I did it earlier in my career," Young said Wednesday. "If I was a manager, Albert Pujols would be the one player I'd give the leeway to do whatever he thought was necessary to win a game.

"Albert, in my opinion, is the best player in the game. Not only does he have great power, but he does everything well offensively. So if he wants to put on a hit-and-run, set someone in motion, I would absolutely give Albert the leeway to do what he needed to do."

Pujols estimated that he has called a hit-and-run like that probably "more than 200 times" in his career. He added that he does not "deserve special treatment", but noted it simply is a matter of trust between him and his manager.

What he liked about being aggressive in that particular situation, Pujols said, was that the Rangers had just tied the game at 2-2 on Adrian Beltre's home run in the bottom of the sixth.

"I felt if we could put pressure on right there, maybe we can switch the game a little bit," Pujols said.

He said he did not put the play on for the first pitch because he was thinking Ogando would start him out with a ball. Instead, he got a slider for a called strike.

Then he called for the hit-and-run, Craig took off, and Ogando threw the fateful ball one far enough up and away that Mike Napoli was able to throw Craig out at second.

"People can throw rocks at Tony and me," Pujols said. "But I can tell you, out of 200 hit-and-runs [that Pujols has called], or maybe 150, believe me, we've won a lot of those games, too."
Posted on: October 23, 2011 11:14 pm
 

Holland pitches Rangers into a World Series tie


ARLINGTON, Tex. -- The Cardinals are on a World Series record-grabbing binge.

One night after the Albert Pujols Show, starting pitcher Edwin Jackson threw a few balls for the ages. And a few more. And a few more. ...

Jackson walked seven Texas Rangers, tying Wild Bill Hallahan (Game 2, 1931) for the most walks ever by a Cardinals starter in a World Series game. The main problem: Two of those walks came directly in front of Mike Napoli in the sixth inning, Jackson's parting gifts to reliever Mitchell Boggs.

How did that go? Napoli drilled the very first pitch from Boggs deep over the left-field fence for a three-run jack, the final touch on Texas' 4-0 two-step evening this series at 2-2 heading into a pivotal Game 5 featuring the two clubs' aces, Chris Carpenter of the Cardinals vs. Texas' C.J. Wilson.

Derek Holland gave Texas what it needed nearly as much as rain over the summer: A starter who went deep into a game and gave the bullpen a chance to kick up its cleats and relax.

Holland just missed firing World Series' first complete-game shutout since Josh Beckett clinched the title for the Marlins over the New York Yankees in Game 6 in 2003. Manager Ron Washington hooked him with one out in the ninth after he walked Rafael Furcal, in favor of closer Neftali Feliz.

As it was, Holland became the first World Series pitcher to last at least 8 1/3 innings and surrender no more than two hits since Greg Maddux in Game 1 in 1995.

It could not have come at a better time. There are growing questions regarding whether Alexi Ogando, Darren Oliver and Co. are threadbare given how much Washington had to rely on them during an ALCS in which Rangers starters didn't earn a win. Holland's eight innings were a godsend.

Also a godsend: Holland holding Pujols to two ground balls and a harmless foul to first base.

That's where things get especially interesting as this series steams into it's final two or three games: For all we heard about Pujols and his record 14 total bases in Game 3, his other three games have been exceptionally ... silent.

Fact is, despite his outburst Saturday, Pujols is hitless in three of four games during this World Series. He was hit by a pitch and intentionally walked in Game 1, but that's it.

Just as Texas needed a starting pitcher -- and now needs a couple beyond Holland -- to move into position to win the state's first-ever World Series, the Cardinals cannot go it with Pujols alone. Matt Holliday, in particular, has been quiet behind Pujols: He's hitting .143 (2 for 14) with three walks and three strikeouts.
Posted on: October 18, 2011 8:06 pm
Edited on: October 18, 2011 8:09 pm
 

Focused Pujols appreciating the moment

ST. LOUIS -- The questions continue to pelt Albert Pujols like the cold rain of early autumn: Has he taken moments here and there during this postseason to soak in the sights and sounds of what could be his final days as a Cardinal?

His answers remain steadfastly the same: No, he isn't thinking about his impending free agency right now, hasn't thought about it since addressing the matter this spring. And can we please talk about the World Series now?

But here's the thing: You know Pujols can't help but be thinking about it because of his incredibly classy gesture in Milwaukee on Sunday.

When Prince Fielder stepped in to lead off the bottom of the eighth with the Brewers trailing 12-6, Pujols called time from first base in an effort to extend the standing ovation Fielder was receiving from the Miller Park crowd.

It was a gesture that got lost in the post-game champagne as the Cardinals clinched, which was too bad. Because it shouldn't have been.

"I've been in that situation here with the best fans in baseball, and I wanted Prince to have the same feeling that I have here, and the same chills," Pujols said when I asked him about it as the teams worked out Tuesday preparing for the World Series opener Wednesday. "I wanted him to have almost the same tears that I have when I have the standing ovation from our fans in my last at-bat, at least they thought that was going to be my last at-bat here in Busch Stadium at that time.

"And I wanted to make sure that Lance [Lynn, St. Louis pitcher] gave Prince a really good opportunity. I think what Prince has done for the organization and for the city of Milwaukee, what he's done in turning the organization around, is amazing. I just wanted him to have his moment. That was his moment.

"At that moment I didn't look at the scoreboard, I didn't look at who was winning or losing. At that moment, I was looking at the person, at the guy who deserved that standing ovation. I wish it would have been a little bit longer. I tried my best. That's how much respect I have for him and the Brewers and those guys."

In a rare philosophical mood Tuesday, Pujols continued.

"I thought it was the right thing to do," he said. "It didn't matter what uniform you were wearing. Things like that, seeing Jeter get his 3,000th hit, seeing the standing ovation that the Yankees fans gave him, those are moments you can't replace. Those are moments that you always are going to take with you and I wanted him to have that opportunity just like I have here."

I still think Pujols will re-sign with the Cardinals this winter.

But if not, this is one of the longest goodbyes on record. Busch Stadium fans cheered for Pujols on the final Sunday of the season when it appeared as if that would be his final home game of 2011.

Then they cheered him in Game 4 of the Division Series in case the Cardinals were eliminated by the Phillies in Game 5.

Then they cheered him in Game 5 of the NL Championship Series in case the Cardinals didn't come back alive from Milwaukee.

Now, the next potential Pujols' farewell at-bats in Busch could come in Game 2 of the World Series here Thursday ... or in Game 6 or 7 here next week.

For now, Pujols is just concerned with attempting to win his second World Series ring in his third Fall Classic appearance with the Cardinals. They were swept by Boston in 2004, then they beat Detroit in 2006.

The big question is how the Rangers will pitch Pujols, who has taken six walks -- including two intentional passes -- so far this postseason.

"I don't know," said Pujols, who is hitting .419 this postseason with two homers and 10 RBI. "Hopefully, I can have the same series I have against Philadelphia and Milwaukee. I'm very patient at the plate, I know that I have great players in front of me and behind me who are going to be able to do damage.

"My main goal is to go out and if I get a good pitch to hit put my best swing on it. And if not, try to take my walk. That's something I've been doing the past two months that I wasn't doing earlier in the year."
Posted on: October 16, 2011 11:51 pm
 

Cards World Series-bound after record run

MILWAUKEE -- If the St. Louis Cardinals' starters pitch this lousy in the World Series ... why, they just might stand a puncher's chance against the Texas Rangers.

Go figure. Tony La Russa burned through 28 pitching changes over six games, using 34 total pitchers ... and his was the team that won. St. Louis burned through the Brewers one more time, 12-6, to seize this NL Championship Series.

And this whole "Happy Flight" thing has gotten quite out of control as the Cardinals streaked to their 22nd win in their past 31 games: They've now won 17 consecutive games leading into a flight this season. And their post-Game 6 flight was the happiest of all: It took them home, and straight into the World Series.

Who would have figured this? The Cardinals were 10 1/2 games out of the wild-card slot in late August, and 8 1/2 out on Sept. 6. Then the Braves started losing, the Cardinals started winning and who knows when it will end?

Ace Chris Carpenter seemed gassed after his beautiful Game 5 classic over Roy Halladay in Philadelphia, but it didn't matter. Edwin Jackson? Lasted two innings in Game 6, but it didn't matter. Jaime Garcia? Kyle Lohse? Neither was sharp but ... you got it. Just didn't matter.

The Cardinals clearly were the better team, and right now it's looking like their TKO of the Phillies was no fluke. The Cardinals led the NL in on-base percentage this season for the first time since 2003, and they're only getting better.

And this was more than Albert Pujols, who flexed for five RBIs in Game 2. This was David Freese's coming out party. With Matt Holliday nursing a sore hand, Freese was unstoppable. In running his postseason hitting streak to nine games, he batted .459 (17 for 37) with five doubles, four homers and 14 RBI. In the six-game NLCS, Freese rolled out the barrel on the Brewers to the tune of a.545 (12 for 22) average with three homers and nine RBIs.

But despite all this, the real stars were those odd-named (Mark Rzepcynski), bespectacled and bearded (Jason Motte), Ryan Braun-killing (Octavio Dotel, who whiffed the Brewers outfielder again Sunday and now has struck him out in nine of 11 career at-bats) and old men (Arthur Rhodes) in the bullpen.

The six consecutive games in which a starting pitcher failed to work into the sixth inning is the longest such postseason streak in St. Louis history.

Normally, that's a recipe for disaster. But with La Russa mixing matchups more expertly than a master bartender mixes drinks, it suddenly wasn't. Time after time, La Russa was able to get Dotel to trump Braun, or the lefty Rzepcynski to face the left-handed Fielder.

Against a Texas lineup that is deeper than most in the National League, La Russa and the bullpen will have their work cut out for them. But if you're going to bet against this club after the month they've put together, well, that's on you.
Posted on: October 11, 2011 6:19 pm
Edited on: October 11, 2011 6:20 pm
 

Struggling Brewers need Gallardo to step up

ST. LOUIS -- Yanked out of their comfy and productive home park, the Brewers at least have ace Yovani Gallardo starting Game 3 Wednesday as this National League Championship Series shifts scenes.

Lifesaver for them, right?

Um, maybe not.

Milwaukee's Misery Index in Missouri is uncomfortably high as the Brewers face the pivotal Game 3: Gallardo, lifetime against the Cardinals, is 1-7 with a 5.66 ERA in 11 starts. Extract a smaller sample size to just 2011, and it's 1-3 with a 5.70 ERA in four starts.

Amplifying the situation is this: Gallardo right now appears to be Milwaukee's best shot. He's 1-0 with a 1.29 ERA in two postseason starts for the Brewers, while those starters not named "Gallardo" -- Zack Greinke, Shaun Marcum and Randy Wolf -- are 1-3 with an 11.52 ERA in five starts.

Milwaukee's first-year manager, Ron Roenicke, has only see Gallardo's 2011 starts against the Cardinals and has no explanation for the struggles.

"There's not a good reason why," Roenicke says. "You know they have a good offense. Sometimes an offense matches up better against a certain type of pitcher. If it's a power pitcher and you have an offense that really handles the fastball well, that could be a reason. And same on the other end. If an offense matches up really well against guys that have the off-speed, slower stuff. ...

"I don't know what the case is with this, but I know we expect him to pitch a good game."

Elementary as it sounds, it starts at the beginning for both Gallardo and the rest of the rotation. While St. Louis leadoff man Rafael Furcal is just 2 for 10 against Milwaukee in the first two games, No. 2 hitter Jon Jay has severely wounded them with a .500 on-base percentage in the two games (.444 batting average).

When these two reach base consistently, that means Albert Pujols -- and Matt Holliday and Lance Berkman behind him -- is even more dangerous. Jay has scored four runs in the first two games of this NLCS, three of which were included among Pujols' five RBI in Game 2.

"We're not too concerned with what we've done in the past," Jay said of the Cards' success against Gallardo. "We just try to have good at-bats. He's a great pitcher. You have to make him throw strikes. If we can have good at-bats and work the count, we'll be all right."

As for Pujols' Game 2 fireworks, it's hard to imagine the Brewers pitching to him any more than they have to from here on out. But when they do, Roenicke said, the key is simple.

"We have to make good pitches," the manager said. "Even Albert, as good a hitter as he is, if you put the pitch exactly where you want to, he's still, percentage-wise, going to have a tough time to continue to hurt us like he has."

Easier said than done. Especially given the current numbers of a rotation of which Roenicke said, "Our starters, that's why we are where we are today. Our starters have pitched great all year, and our relievers have been great, too. ... The playoffs, we have not pitched as well with our starters. But if we are going to win this thing, our starters need to pitch well.

"That's the four of them. We can't get by with just one or two pitchers."

Among other things, expecting a low-scoring pitcher's duel between Gallardo and Chris Carpenter on Wednesday night, Roenicke hinted that he my start Carlos Gomez over Nyjer Morgan in center field in a nod to Gomez's defense.
Posted on: October 10, 2011 11:42 pm
 

One Pujols tops Fielder and Braun in Game 2

MILWAUKEE -- Sledgehammer? Yeah, St. Louis can do sledgehammer. Very well, in fact. One Albert Pujols was more than equal to Ryan Braun and Prince Fielder for the Cardinals in Game 2.

Swinging like a man possessed, Pujols was a one-man wrecking (the Brew) crew. It was as impressive a postseason performance as you'll see as the Cardinals routed Milwaukee 12-3.

He clubbed a two-run homer in the first. Bashed a two-run double in the third. Drilled another RBI double in the fifth. Doubled and scored in the seventh.

He became only the fourth hitter ever with four extra-base hits in a postseason game, following the Yankees' Hideki Matsui (2004 ALCS), the Pirates' Bob Robertson (1971 NLCS) and the White Sox's Frank Isbell (1906 World Series).

That's one way to quiet the Brewers: Send them scurrying to the history books to look up Frank Freakin' Isbell.

However this plays out for the Cardinals, they're down to the final few games of 2011 -- and what might be the final few games for Pujols in a Redbirds uniform. If he does head elsewhere, he's leaving one whale of a parting gift.

From third base in the fifth, he raced home on a Marco Estrada wild pitch that really didn't scoot that far behind catcher Jonathan Lucroy. No matter. The zeal and determination with which Pujols played Game 2 was breathtaking.

One of the rarest things in all of sports is to see one man completely take over a baseball game. Pujols didn't just take this one over, he devoured it whole.

Now the NLCS heads back to St. Louis tied at 1-1 with Cardinals ace Chris Carpenter in the blocks to start Game 3. Momentum swings dramatically with each postseason win or loss, and right now it's all St. Louis.

The Cardinals are no longer facing the Phillies' pitching staff. Milwaukee starter Shaun Marcum, again, was dreadful. Brewers manager Ron Roenicke is going to have a dilemma if the Brewers find themselves in a must-win situation in Game 6.

Marcum now has served up 30 earned runs and 46 hits in 33 innings pitched over his past six starts. Once the calculater stops smoking, it reveals an 8.18 ERA. His location is not sharp, his fastball is dull, his command isn't there.

The Brewers lost only 24 games in Miller Park all season. Marcum started 11 of them. And by the time St. Louis finished batting in the first, it was clear the trend was going to continue.
Posted on: August 24, 2011 12:35 am
 

Konerko sixth to 2,000 hits this season

ANAHEIM, Calif -- Highlights have been few and far between for the 2011 Chicago White Sox, but Paul Konerko put up one for the books when he cracked his 2,000th career hit in the eighth inning of Tuesday's series opener here.

The hit surely was especially meaningful to Konerko in that it was an RBI single against Ervin Santana that tied the game at 4-4 at a point in the season where the White Sox are desperate for every run, every win they can get. Konerko, a beloved figure on Chicago's South Side and widely respected throughout the game, becomes only the 13th player in club history to collect his 2,000th hit.

It's been a boom season for the 2,000-hit club: Konerko is the sixth man to join that club this summer. Previously this summer, Houston's Carlos Lee, San Francisco's Orlando Cabrera (then with the Indians), Cincinnati's Scott Rolen, St. Louis' Albert Pujols and Texas' Michael Young each collected his 2,000th hit.

The White Sox dugout immediately erupted in cheers, then most of the players began waving for the baseball as soon as the play concluded with Alejandro De Aza crossing the plate. With the game 4-4, White Sox manager removed Konerko, who was DHing, for pinch-runner Brent Lillibridge.

Konerko also is at 393 career homers and soon could become only the sixth active player with 400 homers and 2,000 hits, joining Pujols, the Yankees' Alex Rodriguez, Atlanta's Chipper Jones, Baltimore's Vladimir Guerrero and Minnesota's Jim Thome.
 
 
 
 
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