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CBSSports.com Senior Baseball Columnist

Pujols' oh-fers adding up, hurting Cards' Series chances


ARLINGTON, Texas -- The only time Albert Pujols dialed long distance Sunday was when he phoned Reggie Jackson. Babe Ruth? Could not be reached for comment.

The only two men alive who have slammed three home runs in a World Series game spoke about midday Sunday. Someone slipped Pujols Reggie's phone number late Saturday night in the afterglow of Phat Albert's history-making Game 3 performance.

So Pujols dialed. Reggie didn't pick up. Pujols left a message. Reggie phoned back a little while later. And wouldn't you have liked to have listened in on that?

"It was really nice," Pujols said. "He was telling me how blessed I was to be on the same list as him and Babe Ruth. I really appreciate him doing that, taking the time."

Don't know if Jackson happened to mention this little nugget or not, but here's where the duo's three-homer stories part company:

Jackson did it in Game 6 in 1977 on a night when the Yankees clinched the title. Encore? Nothing until the next spring.

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Pujols was summoned for his encore about 18 hours later. And while John Updike may have once famously written of Ted Williams that "Gods do not answer letters", Pujols (and his mates) simply had no answers for Texas lefty Derek Holland.

Not only did the Rangers even this World Series at two games apiece with a 4-0 whitewashing, but for all of his Game 3 thunder and lightning, Pujols is hitless in three of the four World Series games against the Rangers.

The record three homers, 14 total bases, matching Paul Molitor (1982) with a record five hits in one World Series game ... all in one fell swoop.

Like the Cardinals, who went from 16 runs in Game 3 to 0 in Game 4, Pujols hasn't been able to spread it out.

"It's tough to hit," said teammate Lance Berkman, reducing the complex to the simple. "You could underhand it up there and you're going to mis-hit it sometimes, much less when a guy has tremendous stuff."

Holland, inconsistent but highly underrated on his best days, became the first American League pitcher to throw 8 1/3 scoreless World Series innings since the Yankees' Andy Pettitte in Game 5 in Atlanta in 1996. Plate ump Ron Kulpa was calling the inside strike just off the plate, the Cardinals didn't much appreciate it but, whatever. You play the cards you're dealt, even if you are the Cards.

And the way Holland was dealing, expertly changing speeds and mixing a killer curve with hard, mid-90s four-seamers, the Cardinals went more silent than the lambs in that scary old Anthony Hopkins flick.

How you can go from 16 runs one night to 0 the next is one of the game's great mysteries.

We called in two expert witnesses to analyze it:

"It's crazy," Cardinals catcher Yadier Molina said.

"Baseball is crazy," Texas second baseman Ian Kinsler said.

No crazier, or drama-inducing, than when Pujols is lugging the Louisville Slugger to the plate. But if we suspected anything about the Cardinals going in -- and if we've learned anything through four games -- it's this: Unless Pujols is going to go all Babe Ruth all the time, somebody must step up in front of him, behind him, or, preferably, both.

Holland retired Pujols on two ground balls and a foul pop to first, then closer Neftali Feliz induced a fly ball to center with two on in the ninth that, had Pujols deposited into the gap, manager Tony La Russa said, "We might have had a little fun."

Instead, the only fun Pujols and the Cardinals had was remembering what happened a night prior.

Pujols said he had some pitches to hit Sunday night. He just didn't hit them. In particular, he mentioned the first-pitch fastball from Feliz that he fouled off.

As for Holland?

"If I can put the bat on it, it's a good pitch," he said.

Translated: In his mind, he missed three pitches from Holland he could have creamed: First-inning changeup that shortstop Elvis Andrus gobbled up, fourth-inning changeup that he popped foul and seventh-inning fastball that he bounced back to Holland.

"I know he's a wonderful, great hitter, one of the best in the game," Holland said. "But I wanted him to see my 'A' game as well."

Holland declined to say exactly how he approached Pujols, only saying he went right at him.

"I saw the ball really good, to tell you the truth," Pujols said. "He was mixing it up really well, throwing strikes. ... He was being aggressive, and he was keeping us off balance with his changeup, cutter and sinker."

Those stuck on college football Saturday who tuned in Sunday to see the legend in action maybe eventually flipped over to Animal Planet or Oxygen wondering what the big deal is. But that, too, is part of the maddening beauty of this game: There is no designing a play each possession to feed the ball to the big man. Pujols comes to the plate only once each time through the lineup. And Holland's answer was resounding: Yes, he can be pitched to.

Fact is, in Games 1, 2 and 4 combined, Pujols is 0 for 10 with one walk and one hit-by-pitch. He's not alone -- Matt Holliday is hitting .133 in this World Series, Rafael Furcal .125 and Yadier Molina .154.

Small sample size, and as we saw Saturday, Pujols is capable of going nuclear at any moment.

This World Series down now to best-2-of-3, the Cardinals don't even need nuclear. But they're definitely going to need more than the oh-fer Pujols has been saddled with in three of the four games.

If Jackson offered any tips, from one god to another, Pujols wasn't revealing them.

As he headed out the door toward Game 5, he simply said, "It was awesome. He didn't have to do that."


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