Pujols makes history in Cards' win
Slam gives first baseman third straight 40-homer season
St. LOUIS -- Just in case there weren't enough memories for fans who came to watch the third-to-last game ever to be played at Busch Stadium on Friday, Albert Pujols provided one more.
With the bases loaded in the seventh inning and the Cardinals looking to inflate a 6-4 lead, Pujols came to the plate and blasted a moon shot off the first pitch thrown to him from Cincinnati reliever Matt Belisle. The ball arched over the left-field fence and dropped into the stands for the fourth grand slam of Pujols' career, lifting the Cardinals to a 12-6 victory over the Cincinnati Reds.
The slam was the 40th home run of the season for Pujols and the 200th of his career. He is the third-youngest player to reach the 200 mark (only Mel Ott and Eddie Matthews did it sooner), and he got there in a shorter amount of time than anyone but Ralph Kiner, measured in days from his Major League debut. Pujols made it in four seasons, 181 days, while Kiner managed the feat in four years, 119 days. Pujols is also the first Cardinal in the 114-year history of the franchise to hit 40 home runs in three consecutive seasons.
"Sometimes you get what you deserve," Cardinals manager Tony La Russa said. "For 40 to be [No.] 200 and to make it a grand slam, it's like it's from the movies."
Given the setting Pujols walked into, it's hard to imagine the moment not being scripted. Throughout the game, the greatest moments in Busch Stadium history (1966-2005) were replayed on the video screen above center field. Before the sixth inning began, the Cardinals' single-season home run record holder, Mark McGwire, appeared in right field to tear down the No. 3 banner, representing the number of games remaining at the stadium. The retired star was greeted by ear-splitting cheers from 47,257 fans.
But even McGwire never had three consecutive 40 home run seasons in a Cardinals uniform.
"[Pujols has] been unbelievable this whole year," shortstop David Eckstein said. "I hope people don't take it for granted, the numbers he's putting up, because he definitely deserves the MVP."
Of course, the big No. 5 could care less about numbers; all he wants is a World Series ring.
"It's always nice to do something in front of your fans who support you all year long," Pujols said. "[There are] 47,000 people up there cheering for you and giving you a standing ovation -- it's great -- but you can't get caught up in that. You need to make sure you get ready to go, and I'm pretty sure they will be pretty happy if we bring them a World Series championship."
The 12 runs scored were just the type of offensive outburst the Cardinals needed after losing seven of nine games since clinching the Central Division on Sept. 17. Starter Mark Mulder couldn't find a rhythm early and gave up seven walks and three runs (none earned, but all came after an fielding error he committed) in just four innings of work, marking the second time in as many starts he has wasn't able to reach the fifth inning.
"He just had no feel," La Russa said. "Everything he tried to do, he was missing his target. It was one of those days that he just didn't have a feel for the game of pitching."
Mulder had a slightly different assessment of his performance.
"I actually felt really good," Mulder said. "I had really good stuff; I just couldn't throw any strikes."
As they have all season long, the Cardinals kept battling back, and it didn't hurt that the Reds committed five errors in the game. After Cincinnati tied it up at 4 in the sixth inning, reliever Al Reyes came in with the bases loaded and struck out the side.
"He won the game for us," La Russa said of Reyes. "That game could have been blown open. The game was there, and somehow he strikes those three guys out. He's having a great year for us."
Even Pujols was quick to give Reyes credit for changing the pace of the game.
"It's amazing," Pujols said. "He's a sneaky guy. He threw a couple of sliders then a fastball to surprise Jason LaRue there."
The next inning, Reggie Sanders smacked a two-out, two-run double, scoring So Taguchi and Pujols. It was the third consecutive game Sanders has come up with a big hit but this is the first one the Cardinals have won.
Feisty leadoff hitter Eckstein tied a career high with four hits to go along with two runs scored and two RBIs. He is tied with Pujols for the club lead with 57 multi-hit games.
The Cardinals need to win their last two games to reach the 100-win plateau. It would make them the second team in franchise history to do so in back-to-back seasons and the first since the club did it three straight times from 1942-1944.
Then again, who's concerned with numbers?
Stephen A. Norris is a contributor to MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.