Pujols' swing puts him in record books
Slugger's two-run shot gives him seventh 30-homer season
ST. LOUIS -- With one swing on Wednesday night, Albert Pujols extended two streaks and etched his name yet again in baseball's record books. With his subsequent trot around the bases, however, Pujols gave his teammates and himself a scare.
Pujols hit a two-run homer in the first inning off Florida's Scott Olsen, giving the Cardinals a 2-0 lead and making the slugger seven-for-seven in 30-home run seasons. It was also the fifth consecutive game in which Pujols hit a home run. Yet earlier in the same at-bat, Pujols felt significant discomfort near the top of his right hamstring, so much so that he was almost removed from the game.
"In that at-bat, I knew something was wrong and I tried to just use my hands and put a good swing," Pujols said. "I got a good pitch up and away to hit and I put my best swing of the night."
It remains in question, then, when he'll take aim at six straight games. Pujols could be held out of Thursday's lineup if he wakes up, or comes to the park, in too much pain.
"When he comes back, and stuff stiffens, that will be a major concern tonight," manager La Russa said. "He felt something in the upper part of the back of his leg as he made a swing."
The night epitomized so much of what is amazing about Pujols. His consistently staggering production has already made him a unique figure in the game's history.
He is the only player in Major League history to begin his career with four straight seasons of 30 or more homers, and he's stretched the record in each year. It's now seven, with no signs of stopping. Pujols has also scored 100 runs, driven in 100 runs and batted above .300 in every one of his seasons, and he's on pace to extend all of those strings as well.
"Since his rookie year, we've kind of scratched our heads in amazement at the quality of his baseball," La Russa said. "It's not just his hitting. You watch how he plays defense and how he runs the bases. But one way you measure how great a player is in our game is you compare some of the numbers with history. His consistency speaks to strength of mind, I think, and competitiveness more than talent."
Even with the spectacular numbers, it's been years since Pujols played an entire season without a significant physical hindrance. He's dealt with elbow troubles, plantar fasciitis, back pain and chronic hamstring issues.
Through it all, he has produced at an absurdly high level.
"I'm just blessed," he said. "I just give God all the credit. To stay healthy -- not healthy, but to battle through some injuries like I have battled the last seven years and accomplish what I have accomplished -- is unbelievable."
The Major League record for consecutive games with a home run is eight, held by Dale Long, Don Mattingly and Ken Griffey Jr. Pujols' five-game streak is the longest of his career. Pujols has homered in six of the past seven games, but his dinger on Wednesday was his first in that stretch that was not a solo shot.
After a strikingly slow start to the season, Pujols has moved into the top 10 in the National League in most major offensive categories, including batting average (.322, eighth), on-base percentage (.424, second), slugging percentage (.579, sixth), home runs (30, tied for fourth), RBIs (83, tied for ninth) and runs scored (81, tied for ninth). Should the Cardinals make the playoffs, he will surely be a serious contender for a second MVP award, and ought to be considered even if the season ends in September.
"I think we'll be saying how special he is when he's done," said Jim Edmonds, the only Cardinals player whose tenure predates Pujols'. "There are no limits to what he's capable of. He just keeps going out there and doing his job every single day. He doesn't really say much. He's always into the game and wants to win. He's playing hurt, but it doesn't seem to take away from his game at all. It's really fun to watch him.
"He plays the game the way it's supposed to be played, and that's every day. He battles through injuries. When you're a star, and you're capable of playing, you play, and that's how the game goes. But, he does some really special things out there."
Matthew Leach is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.