10/23/11 2:56 AM ET
Pujols, Cardinals are perfect fit for each other
By Hal Bodley / MLB.com
This World Series has given the best player in the Major Leagues an international stage to show just how great he is, and even more important, how valuable he is to the St. Louis franchise.
Pujols entered this postseason on the doorstep of free agency, his future with the only team he's ever played for uncertain.
But after this World Series, the Cardinals will have no choice but to retain Pujols, the face of the franchise. That is if management ever seriously considered letting him walk away as a free agent to the highest bidder.
The Pujols legacy was sealed on Saturday night in the heart of Texas as he staged the greatest offensive performance in the history of the World Series, as the Cardinals thrashed the Rangers, 16-7.
Eons from now, historians will remember this classic performance.
No player had ever had four hits, two homers and five RBIs in the same World Series game. Pujols had five hits, three homers and six RBIs, and joined legends Babe Ruth and Reggie Jackson with three-homer games in the World Series.
Pujols is hitting .417 in this best-of-seven tournament that the Cardinals now lead, 2-1.
He left the Rangers and a sold-out crowd at Rangers Ballpark in Arlington stunned on this balmy October night.
One thing is certain: Pujols will never have the opportunity to freely swing the bat as he did Saturday night. The Rangers will make sure of that.
As Pujols rounded the bases after his third homer, a fan in the stands flashed a sign, the sentiments of just about every Cardinals fan: "We love you, Albert, please don't leave!"
Babe Ruth, Reggie Jackson, Albert Pujols.
"It's an honor to be in the same category as those guys," Pujols said. "But I just thank God that I was able to come out today and help our ballclub win. Hopefully, I can do that tomorrow again.
"I didn't walk into the ballpark today thinking I was going to have a night like this. It's just pretty special, you know, but at the same time, you need to enjoy this for a minute and be ready to play tomorrow."
Rangers manager Ron Washington said Pujols should be outlawed.
"He's a super player, no doubt about it. He certainly came to play tonight."
Pujols, who's won the National League MVP Award three times, has refused to talk about free agency. He reportedly turned down a nine-year, $190 million contract during the offseason, and he emphatically stated there would be no negotiations until after the season.
"Let's talk about something else," Pujols said. "Let's talk about baseball."
He's certainly going to end up with a deal worth in excess of $200 million, likely making him the second-highest paid player in the Major Leagues behind the Yankees' Alex Rodriguez.
In the Cardinals' 2-1 loss to Texas in Game 2, Pujols failed to catch a relay throw from the outfield, an error which was crucial. It allowed the winning run to advance to third base and later score on a sacrifice fly.
Pujols and other leaders of the team were criticized for not being available to the media after the game. This turned into a full-blown controversy during Friday's workout day.
Pujols was angered by the criticism. And as he hammered out one hit after another on Saturday night, it seemed like he was sending a message with his bat. He insisted there was no extra motivation.
"Not really," he said. "To tell you the truth, I just come and get ready to play. I've been in that situation before, where people just blow things out, and it is what is, and you can't really think about that. My main focus is we are in the World Series."
Cardinals manager Tony La Russa, talking about Pujols, said, "It's the latest example of how great he is. You saw it tonight.
La Russa was talking the other day about comparing Pujols to the greats of the game.
"I heard Reggie Jackson say this one time, years ago, when somebody was asking about [Hank Aaron] or [Willie Mays] or [Stan] Musial, and he said, 'If you're in the conversation, that's enough,'" La Russa commented.
"Well, Albert is in the conversation of a lifetime-type player, and whoever else is in that conversation, have at it. But I can't tell you what a privilege it is to watch this guy for 11 years."
If Musial is the greatest Cardinals player of all time, Pujols is not far behind.
When this is mentioned to Pujols, he shrugs it off and says no one in the organization can be compared to Musial.
Once there was talk of Musial being traded -- to the Phillies, if memory serves. It didn't happen, and Stan the Man played his entire career with St. Louis.
And that is something the current ownership must make sure happens with Albert Pujols.
He's just as important to the franchise today as Musial was in his prime.
Hal Bodley is the senior correspondent for MLB.com; he's covering his 47th World Series. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.