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CBSSports.com Senior Baseball Columnist

Even for Pujols, Game 2 effort something to harp about


Pujols touches home in the first for what is one of his five RBI for the Cards in Game 2. (AP)  
Pujols touches home in the first for what is one of his five RBI for the Cards in Game 2. (AP)  

MILWAUKEE -- Those deafening "MVP!" chants were nowhere to be found at Miller Park on Monday night. They just sort of up and drifted away somewhere out over Lake Michigan.

Why? Because it would have been pretty darned awkward for a Milwaukee crowd to roll out that chant for Albert Pujols, that's why.

Oh. My. Lord.

We've seen Pujols Unleashed before. We know the man is a three-time MVP and Cooperstown-bound. But even given that, rarely do you see Pujols do the type of damage he did in stiff-arming his Cardinals to a 12-3 evening of this NL Championship Series in ol' Milwaukee.

Four extra-base hits, one homer, a playoff career-high five RBI, three runs scored. The guy was a one-man wrecking (the Brew) crew.

"He had that look in his eye all night," Cardinals second baseman Nick Punto said.

If we didn't know better, we might even call it Beast Mode.

NLCS: Cardinals at Brewers
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"I've seen it a handful of times," Punto continued of The Look. "We play pretty good when our backs are against the wall, and I think he knew how big today was. You don't want to go home down 0-2. And a split here in Milwaukee is a win, as well as they play here."

Was this show for the ages purely driven by his maniacal competitive spirit? By his distaste for the Brewers? Was it the exclamation point on the final proof of his negotiating points before possibly kissing off St. Louis in the free-agent market this winter?

Who really knows?

"It's been amazing where we're at," said Pujols, who has steadfastly refused to discuss his impending free agency all season. "Two months ago, everybody was making vacation plans and thinking that we were out."

General manager John Mozeliak had started to talk about planning for the future. The Texas Rangers were engaging him in trade talks for Lance Berkman.

"We had 35 games left and we just told ourself, let's see how many games we can win," Pujols said.

Now, they're three wins away from a World Series.

No doubt, the Cardinals' charter home for Game 3 Wednesday cruised easily in the jet stream created by the two-run home run Pujols launched in the first inning Monday. Then he crushed a two-run double in the third, belted an RBI double in the fifth and punched another in the seventh.

Pujols 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).

This must be what the running of the bulls is like in Pamplona. Outta the way, or you'll get gored. This was Kareem Abdul-Jabbar dominating the Celtics for 48 minutes, Tom Brady shredding the Jets through the air for 400 yards and five touchdowns.

Rarely do you see one man dominate a baseball game so thoroughly, so completely. There is no racing down the court and clearing out the lane for one man to do his thing. The defense has the ball. There is no time out, let's set up a play for Albert.

"Especially when you try to be careful and pitch around guys," injured Cards infielder Skip Schumaker said. "A guy gets a lead-off double [Jon Jay in the fifth] and they're pitching around him and he doubles, it's ridiculous."

Absolutely absurd.

Except. ...

"He's been the greatest hitter in the history of the game for the first decade of his career," Cardinals right fielder Lance Berkman said. "So it's not surprising."

But even on the Albert-Meter, this was anything but routine.

"When a guy like Albert has four hits and drives in five runs, it's not like 'Oh my gosh, I can't believe what I just saw'," Berkman continued. "If you get that from your eight-hole hitter, we can talk.

"It's not that I'm underwhelmed by it. But by the same token, it's Albert Pujols we're talking about."

True enough. But this was the guy who Sunday night was grumbling about missed opportunities. So angry was he over missing a pitch in Game 1, he later said that he hits that same pitch out of the ballpark "seven out of 10 times."

Berkman was still howling about that one. No way, he said, would he ever have the confidence to say anything outrageous like that.

"He has an unshakable confidence," Berkman said, "that is as much a gift as bat speed and power."

All of the stuff with his bat would have been plenty. But when he came roaring in from third base in the fifth to score St. Louis' sixth run on a wild pitch that really didn't get that far behind Brewers catcher Jonathan Lucroy, someone really should have issued an earthquake warning.

"You have to enjoy every game, every postseason, because it might be your last one," Pujols philosophized. "I've been blessed to be in so many, and having a World Series ring so young in my career [at 26, in 2006]. And I'm just hungry all the time, every day, because you can't take this game for granted."

At this rate, some Brewer somewhere had better figure out a way to feed him before game time. Because if this is him signing off for good as a Cardinal, it could get real ugly for the Brewers if they don't tame him, quick.

"I don't anticipate him not being here because you don't want to think about it," Schumaker said. "But you realize there's a business side.

"He's an icon for the city. What he's done for the city of St. Louis, not just on the baseball field, but in the community ... it's a tough spot for both sides. I'm glad I'm not a part of it."

The only tougher spot, for now, is standing on that mound in a Brewers uniform when Pujols settles into the box.

"You've seen him enough to know, in the biggest situations, he rises to the occasion," Cardinals starter Kyle Lohse said. "It's just a matter of whether the other team pitches to him.

"Who knows if they'll pitch to him the rest of the series?"


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