ARLINGTON, Tex. -- On a warm and windy night in a football state, Albert Pujols turned sepia-toned. Right before our very eyes, he did. Stepped straight from the baseball diamond and into the ages.
Babe Ruth, Reggie Jackson, Albert Pujols.
Wait. Check that.
Pujols ... and then those other two.
What we saw in Game 3 of this crazy World Series was only the greatest performance, ever, in a World Series game. The final score was beside the point (Cardinals 16, Rangers 7, for the record). This was about one man, history and his place in it.
That man was not Matt Holliday.
"I'm not sure my at-bats even made the TV broadcast," said Holliday who, you know, bats fourth, right after Pujols. "Hopefully they did.
"Hopefully, there's video evidence that I played."
On that count, there is no guarantee.
Because on a warm and windy night in a football state, baseball history shuffled its deck. Pujols stepped straight from the World Series into the scrapbooks.
He matched Ruth and Jackson as the only players ever to smash three home runs in one World Series game.
He equaled Paul Molitor as the only player ever to punch out five hits in one World Series game.
He became the only player ever to rack up 14 total bases in a World Series game.
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"I felt that I swung the bat pretty good the last couple of game," said Pujols, who seemed caught somewhere between dazed and stunned afterward. "And just, that's the way baseball goes."
And goes and goes. He singled in the fourth, singled in the fifth, homered in the sixth, homered in the seventh and homered again in the ninth in becoming the first player in World Series history to ever have even as many as four hits, two homers and five RBI in a game. He finished with five, three and six.
The six RBI matched Bobby Richardson (1960, Game 3) and Hideki Matsui's (2009, Game 6) single-game World Series record.
Pujols didn't simply destroy the Rangers, propelling his Cardinals to a 2-1 lead in this Fall Classic, and mangle the record book. He ran both through the shredder.
History comes in all shapes and from unexpected angles, and the enormously talented Pujols is always on the edge of creating it. But even for him, this one was a doozy. It was only 24 hours earlier when Pujols was angrily combating criticism that he fled the Cardinals clubhouse following a key ninth-inning error that helped unravel St. Louis in Game 2 and leave this series tied.
Not fair, Pujols charged. He was in the clubhouse kitchen. Nobody sent word to him that his presence was desired.
Pujols insisted that the previous day's tete-a-tete over his disappearing act had nothing to do with Saturday's sledgehammer performance. Though time and place conspired to make it look as if Pujols was putting together the most history laden in-your-face ever, he simply said, "I feel embarrassed that everybody was just focused on that."
Wherever the truth is, and whatever was said, he could not have changed the conversation more dramatically.
Our kids will be watching old video footage of Pujols' three-homer World Series game just like we hung on old footage of Reggie Jackson's.
Our grandkids will listen to the legend of Pujols the way we once devoured the legend of Ruth.
"In left field, I could hear the guy announcing all the numbers," Holliday said, referring to the loudspeaker in the auxiliary press box. "1926 ... Paul Molitor was the last guy to have five hits ... I heard all the reading off of those numbers. I've had about an hour to put it into perspective."
"It's pretty good."
Yes. And a sunrise is mildly beautiful. And the ocean is pretty big.
Mr. October, meet Senor Octubre.
The Babe, meet El Hombre.
"I think it's deserving," Holliday said. "It fits. This guy is a once-in-a-generation player. It seems like it should happen this way."
"We're talking about Albert Pujols," Cardinals infielder Skip Schumaker said. "The guy should be mentioned with Babe Ruth and Reggie Jackson, anyway. I'm glad this happened in the World Series because I really believe that at the end of his career, he should be mentioned with the greatest hitters ever, right-handed or left-handed."
Pujols always has done his best talking on the field, anyway. That's what the Cardinals pay him for, and that's what suitors wooing him on the free agent market this winter will attempt to pay him for. Sure, the Cardinals like to brag about how good he is in the community, too. But let's get this straight: They're not paying him to kiss babies, shake hands and smile pretty. Otherwise, he would have been at his locker chatting the other night.
He had a miserable (for him) April and May, a so-so (for him) season overall and he cannot be stopped this autumn. Turns out, his four-hit, five-RBI day in the Cardinals' 12-3 win over Milwaukee in Game 2 of the NLCS was just an appetizer.
Best game in World Series history?
"I think the best thing to do is, you make that statement and ask somebody, OK, show me one that was better," Cardinals manager Tony La Russa said. "I think it would be hard to do."
Impossible, is more like it.
His first homer tamed a wild game, boosting an 8-6 Cardinals lead into an 11-6 runaway and silencing the Texas crowd of 51,462.
His second took it from 12-6 to 14-6 and left everyone slack-jawed.
His third made it 16-7 and, by then, everyone was gasping for air. It either should have been accompanied by the soundtrack from The Natural or the crackling machine guns from The Godfather, I'm not sure which.
"It was a historical performance," Cardinals general manager John Mozeliak said. "And the timing of it was that every time you needed an answer, there was an answer."
Poor Mozeliak. He's the guy who will resume tossing multi-million contracts at Pujols like rose petals when this World Series ends. By then, the $200 million contract Pujols has wanted might look like chump change.
"Who's his comparable?" Schumaker asked. "I have 50 guys like me in my arbitration cases.
Now that he's passed Ruth and Reggie in World Series history. ...
"I just thank God every day that I'm able to wear this uniform," Pujols said when asked about La Russa moving into second-place on the all-time postseason wins list, and file that one away for a cold winter's day when the negotiating season begins.
As for the rest of the Cardinals. ...
"Make sure that you tell everybody that I was here," Holliday quipped. "That I was a part of it."