10/22/2004 7:00 PM ET
Best hitters get their biggest stage
Pujols, Ortiz have dominated foes as Series opens
|Albert Pujols' biggest advantage over David Ortiz may be his improving defensive abilities. (Tom Gannam/AP)
BOSTON -- What next for the MVPs of the Championship Series?
Which one, Albert Pujols of the St. Louis Cardinals or David Ortiz of the Boston Red Sox, will shine most brightly in the World Series? Will one, or both, continue to lead the way? Will one of them make the difference?
Stay tuned for the answers. But here is where the situation takes a turn, as it does every October, when baseball's most important games are played under two sets of rules.
There is no disputing the work of either Pujols or Ortiz in the Championship Series. Pujols hit .500 with four home runs and nine RBIs. Ortiz hit .387 with three home runs and 11 RBIs. This is one fair measurement of greatness; the ability to have a terrific regular season -- which both of these gentlemen had -- and turn it into something even better in the postseason.
One circumstance will change in the World Series. Pujols is a first baseman by trade, and he is becoming an accomplished defensive player. Ortiz is regularly a designated hitter. When the Series moves to St. Louis and the games are played under National League rules, the Red Sox will have to move Ortiz to first if they want to keep his bat in the lineup, as they obviously do. As a first baseman, well, Ortiz is still a designated hitter.
Cardinals manager Tony La Russa, asked Friday about Pujols' defensive contributions, replied: "Well, I think he demonstrated as a rookie, I mean, he played above average defense at third, first, left and right, which is amazing. Now concentrating on one position, I think he'll contend for a Gold Glove by next year."
On the other hand, the Red Sox will gladly put up with limited defensive shortcomings in exchange for Ortiz's hitting prowess. Can he fairly be expected to continue the pace that he set in the ALCS?
"He'd better," Red Sox manager Terry Francona said with a smile. "You know what, some of that stuff is you're getting hot at the right time and you can never script it before the Series, obviously.
"But he's very dangerous all the time. Even when he's not hitting, I think if you ask an opposing pitcher, they are not going to be thrilled to have him hitting with the bases loaded. I mean, the threat of him there behind Manny (Ramirez) is huge. You know, we talk about that a lot with our players, when they are not 100 percent, if they go out there and play, their presence in the lineup may help someone else get a hit."
If anything, Pujols' overall hitting credentials are even more impressive than those of Ortiz. This is saying a great deal, but in a very short period of time, Pujols has established himself as one of the elite hitters in the game. He could easily be the NL MVP this season, but for the fact that he is in the same league as Barry Bonds, and the fact that two of his teammates played at an MVP level this season, too.
"Pujols might be the best hitter in the game," Francona said Friday.
Then again, La Russa is also suitably impressed with the value Ortiz has for the Sox.
"Because of the way the games were spaced, we had a chance to see a lot of the Red Sox and Yankees series and a lot of Ortiz's heroics against the Anaheim club," La Russa said. "For two years now, he's really been in clutch form. He was big damage for us in the Interleague series (in 2003). You know, you take your hat off because he's such a tough out and it looks like guys rally around him."
In the two Championship Series, in this postseason in general, the best hitters in the game were, in fact, Pujols and Ortiz. The outcome of the 2004 World Series may hinge on which of these hitters can persevere and dominate in yet another postseason showcase, this one being the ultimate one.
Mike Bauman is a national columnist for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.