A ballplayer who is 26 shouldn't yet have more than a couple of great moments in his career. So it was astonishing how difficult it was to narrow the list of St. Louis Cardinals outfielder Albert Pujols' masher memories down to 10.
Like many pitchers who have faced Pujols over the years, we gave in. His list, as does many a great thing, goes to 11. Here it is (with some help from historical sites Retrosheet and BaseballLibrary.com):
11. April 9, 2001: Homers in his first St. Louis home opener We begin in Pujols' rookie season, before anyone outside the know had heard of him. By most accounts, Pujols only made the Opening Day roster because of an injury to 38-year-old Bobby Bonilla, but did he ever seize the opportunity. Pujols went 1 for 3 in his first game, 7 for 14 in his second series, and in his first regular-season at-bat in St. Louis, at age 21, he blasted a two-run homer off Colorado's Denny Neagle. Pujols reached base 16 times in his first 34 plate appearances and went on to set a rookie record for home runs in April, with eight.
10. Sept. 19, 2001: Sets rookie RBI record Pujols hit a two-run double in the fifth off Milwaukee's Jeff D'Amico that gave him 120 RBIs, breaking the 71-year-old rookie record held by Wally Berger of the Boston Braves. Pujols finished the season with 130, still his career high.
9. Sept. 21, 2001: Grand slam breaks rookie extra-base hit record As the 2001 season progressed, it became almost inevitable that Pujols would break Brooklyn Dodgers outfielder Johnny Frederick's rookie record of 82 extra-base hits -- like Berger's mark, also set in the hitter-happy year of 1930. What was not inevitable was that Pujols would do it so dramatically -- a ninth-inning, game-winning grand slam off Omar Olivares to beat the Pittsburgh Pirates 9-5. Pujols finished the year with 88 extra-base hits.
8. May 23, 2003, and June 1, 2004: Pillaging the Pirates If the city of Pittsburgh ever has a collective nightmare that isn't about the Fish not coming to save it, it will be about Pujols. You'll notice who his victims were in Moment No. 9. In games against the Pirates in 2003 and '04, Pujols had two of the best days of his career. In the first instance he went 5 for 6 with two doubles in the Cardinals' 10-inning, 10-8 victory -- driving in the final run in the 10th on a bunt single, mind you! In the second he went 5 for 5 with a homer, leading St. Louis to an 8-1 victory.
7. June 5-7, 2003: Reaches base in nine straight plate appearances Double, single, homer, single, walk, single, single, double, double. Something like this had to happen, didn't it?
6. July 20, 2004: Game-winning homer caps 5-for-5, three-HR day Once again Pujols combined a great statistical day with a flair for the dramatic. Although Pujols unleashed an RBI double in the first, a solo homer in the third, a leadoff single in a four-run sixth and a leadoff homer in the eighth, the Cardinals entered the ninth in an 8-8 tie with the rival Cubs. Pujols' two-run shot off LaTroy Hawkins was the decisive blow, one that also gave him 15 total bases on the day.