Oh, what a night! Pujols delivers iconic World Series moment
Albert Pujols went 5-for-6 with three homers and six RBIs in Game 3
Pujols' huge night was the perfect synergy of talent, swing and stage
Baseball has waited for a decade for a special performance like this
ARLINGTON, Texas -- With the first swing he took in batting practice before Game 3 of the World Series, Albert Pujols lined a baseball 16 rows deep to the right of the Cardinals bullpen in left-center field at Rangers Ballpark.
"I went, 'Oooooh!,'" teammate Chris Carpenter said. "This is the swing we've seen for the better part of nine years, but until recently haven't really seen this year. And when that happens, when he's got that swing, you know it's going to be bad news for opposing pitchers."
At the batting cage, Pujols turned to hitting coach Mark McGwire and said, "My swing feels so good."
McGwire nodded knowingly. Time is the required ally of true greatness, for it takes not one moment but many of them layered upon one another year after year after year to elevate the very best to the top of their profession. But when the truly great are at the top of their game -- when the swing is dead solid perfect -- what you get is history.
Lincoln at Gettysburg. Hendrix at Woodstock. Pujols at Arlington. The performance of a lifetime.
"I knew then," McGwire said about Pujols feeling just right about his swing, "that it was only a matter of getting good pitches to hit."
The score of Game 3 will be lost to history, the unseemliness of a 16-7 pounding St. Louis gave Texas better off forgotten anyway. What remains forever is what happened when the best player of his generation found the very best of himself on the biggest of all stages. It was, quite simply, the greatest night by one player in the history of the 620 World Series games ever played.
It wasn't enough that Pujols joined Babe Ruth (1926 and 1928) and Reggie Jackson (1977) as the only players to hit three home runs in a World Series game. He also tied World Series records for runs batted in (six, by Bobby Richardson and Hideki Matsiui) and hits (five by Paul Molitor, with Pujols, incredibly, getting five hits off five different pitchers in a six-inning span). The hits -- two singles and three homers -- added up to 14 total bases, two more than the previous record shared by Ruth and Jackson. No one ever had a night this big.
"What it means," McGwire said, "is move over, Mr. October. There's a new Mr. October, and it's Albert Pujols."
This was the performance for which baseball has waited for a decade. The World Series, truth be told, has been negligent in giving us iconic nights, the kind of nights with the biggest kind of wonder, the wonder that belongs not just to history books but the oral history of the game. The nights to tell your grandchildren about.
Fisk waving the home run fair. Buckner coming up empty. Gibson hobbling to the plate and around the bases. Morris refusing to leave. Carter, Renteria, Gonzalez.
And then it just stopped. The 2004 Red Sox and 2005 White Sox were great stories -- allowing thousands to at last die happy -- but gave not a singular World Series moment. Series came and Series went, too quickly and too quietly. Not since Luis Gonzalez beat Mariano Rivera did the World Series pay off with a jackpot.
Then came Pujols, right there with the Babe and Reg-gie among October legends, but alone for an entire generation. Pujols wasn't even born when Jackson hit his three home runs.
Pujols did his best not to allow himself to admire what Jackson once called "the magnitude of me." He was gracious in praise of his teammates, humble in being asked to reflect on what he had just accomplished.
"To tell you the truth, I won't like, I don't concentrate on numbers," he said. "I just said it, this is not an individual game. This is a team effort. That's what I try to do every day -- go out there and help my ballclub to win however I can.
"Hopefully at the end of my career I can look back and say, 'Wow, what a game it was in Game 3 in 2011.' But as of right now, it's great to get this win and just move on pretty much and get ready to play tomorrow."
The night began quietly enough, with Pujols grounding out on a well struck ball, though it took a nifty stop by Texas third baseman Adrian Beltre, sliding to his left, to prevent what would have made for a six-hit night.
The barrage began in the fourth: a hard single to left off left-hander Matt Harrison. And then it was like the grand finale of a fireworks show, with crackling explosions breaking out one after another in rapid succession: a hard single to center off right-hander Scott Feldman in the fifth, a hellaciously hard three-run home run to left field off right-hander Alexi Ogando in the sixth, a two-run laser of a home run to left-center field off left-hander Mike Gonzalez in the seventh, and a parting shot, a solo homer to left off left-hander Darren Oliver in the ninth.