ARLINGTON -- It would not have been unreasonable to think Albert Pujols had nothing left to accomplish in baseball. It just would have been wrong.
Add one more line to the résumé of the greatest hitter of his generation: Pujols turned in the greatest individual hitting performance in World Series history on Saturday night. The Cardinals superstar pounded three home runs among five hits, driving in six runs and amassing 14 total bases, as St. Louis obliterated the Rangers, 16-7, in Game 3 of the 2011 World Series.
Pujols equaled World Series records for hits, homers and RBIs, set a new record for total bases and became the first person to get anywhere close to combining all of them in the same game. No one had ever had four hits, two homers and five RBIs in a Fall Classic game, never mind five, three and six. Pujols joined Reggie Jackson and Babe Ruth as the only players to homer three times in a World Series game (Ruth did it twice).
"Those guys are great players," Pujols said, "and to do it at that level and on this stage is amazing. But ... at the same time, I didn't walk into the ballpark today thinking that I was going to have a night like this. I walked to the ballpark with the attitude that I have every day -- to help this ballclub to win, and I was able to do that, defensively and offensively."
Theory of Relativity
The slugger paced a 15-hit fusillade as St. Louis seized a 2-1 lead in the best-of-seven Series. Teams taking a 2-1 lead have gone on to win the World Series 55 out of 83 times in the best-of-seven format, a success rate of 66 percent.
The win puts the Cards in control of the World Series, two wins away from what would be the 11th title in franchise history. They need not win another game in Arlington, since Games 6 and 7, if necessary, would be at Busch Stadium. Save for a ninth-inning stumble in Game 2 in St. Louis, the Cardinals might be looking at the most commanding World Series lead possible, a 3-0 edge. They have trailed exactly once in the entire Series, in that ninth inning on Thursday.
Which is not to say that Saturday's win was easy. The Rangers weren't fully subdued until well into a frantic game in which the teams combined for 28 hits. Neither starting pitcher survived the fourth inning, and 11 pitchers took the mound over four hours and four minutes worth of baseball.
"I know it hasn't been comfortable," Lance Berkman said. "A lot of these games, we're still biting our nails even though we've scored 10 runs. ... You've got to add on, because this is a tough team, and in this ballpark, a five-run lead can evaporate in a hurry."
For three innings, Saturday's game looked a good bit like the pitching duels the teams played in St. Louis earlier in the week. Then the crooked numbers began to fly. The Cardinals put multiple runs on the board in four straight innings, another World Series record, pulling away even as the Rangers kept hitting.
Each time, Pujols was involved. His single ignited a four-run fourth, though that rally tilted primarily on a missed call at first base and a throwing error by Mike Napoli. Pujols' single, followed by two walks, set the stage for a three-run fifth, with Yadier Molina lining a two-run double for the big blow in that rally.
Again and again, Texas responded. Going into the sixth, it was an 8-6 game with starters Kyle Lohse and Matt Harrison long gone. That's when the Cards began firming up their grip on the game, thanks to Pujols' first homer.
Ryan Theriot walked to open the inning, and Rafael Furcal singled. After Allen Craig's strikeout, Pujols assaulted a 1-1 fastball from Alexi Ogando that was up and in, drilling it off the façade above the club in left field. The ball was estimated to have traveled 423 feet, but it's hard to think there wasn't some sort of conversion factor at play there -- it was one of the most impressive homers you're ever likely to see, at least somewhat reminiscent of his famous blast off Brad Lidge in 2005.
"It doesn't matter how far it goes," Pujols said. "At that time, we needed a score. I just went up there and looked for a good pitch to hit. He's a great pitcher but he left the ball up, and I put up my best swing of the night. I'm just glad we got some runs back after they scored three runs in that inning."
An error, a single, a walk and a sacrifice fly made it a four-run inning. But the Cardinals still needed a stop, and Lance Lynn provided it. Lynn shut the Rangers down in the bottom half of the frame to keep the 12-6 edge intact. In the seventh, Craig walked and Pujols went deep a second time, this time to center, fully salting the game away.
"Between him and [the Tigers' Miguel] Cabrera, you need to outlaw them," said Texas manager Ron Washington. "They're just that good. I don't know, the guy just got locked in after his first at-bat tonight. ... He's a super player, no doubt about it. He certainly came to play tonight."
Pujols' third homer of the game came in the ninth inning off Rangers lefty Darren Oliver, and it was simultaneously jaw-dropping and completely expected. With the blast, Pujols wrote his name in the record book one more time and completed an historic performance.
"Amazing," Theriot said. "There's really no other way to describe it. You just almost knew he was going to hit another one, too. It was an incredible, incredible night for him. And for us."
Matthew Leach is a reporter for MLB.com. Read his blog, Obviously, You're Not a Golfer and follow him on Twitter at @MatthewHLeach. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.