MILWAUKEE — He has games like this, Albert Pujols does, when the snarl on his face is a little more pronounced, and the flip of his bat after a home run swing has a little more arc to it, and there is never any question, even when there are MVP candidates in the other lineup, who the best player on the field is. At age 31, these games may come less frequently for Pujols than they did at 25. But they seem to be better-timed.
On Monday night, with his St. Louis Cardinals facing a precarious position in the National League Championship Series, El Hombre reasserted his dominance over the Milwaukee Brewers and, in a sense, the game of baseball. It’s not supposed to be as easy as Pujols made it look in the Cardinals’ 12-3 win at Miller Park in Game 2, which squared the series at a game apiece. Game 3 is scheduled for Wednesday night at St. Louis’s Busch Stadium.
St. Louis slugger Albert Pujols was 4 for 5 with a home run, three doubles and five RBIs to lead the Cardinals past the Milwaukee Brewers 12-3 on Monday. The win ties the NLCS at one game each. (Oct. 11)
Nelson Cruz hit the first game-ending grand slam in postseason history, lifting the Texas Rangers over the Detroit Tigers 7-3 in 11 innings Monday for a 2-0 lead in the AL championship series. (Oct. 10)
Of the Cardinals’ first seven runs — during the competitive portion of the game — Pujols drove in five of them, on a two-run homer and three doubles, and scored two others, one of them when he barreled home from third on a wild pitch that bounced a mere 15 feet or so from the catcher, punctuating it with a hard slide into the pitcher.
Pujols became the first player since Hideki Matsui in the 2004 ALCS to amass four extra-base hits in a postseason game, and only the second in 30 years. And it came at a time when Pujols, hobbled by ankle and heel injuries, was starting to hear questions, much to his disdain, about his ability to make adjustments.
“This game is not easy,” Pujols said. “It’s going to raise you high and bring you down. The thing you need to do as a player . . . is just let the game come to you.”
Freed from the tyranny of the Philadelphia Phillies’ rotation of aces, the Cardinals are proving once again why they were the best offense in the NL during the regular season. After scoring just eight runs in their last three games of the division series (two of which were wins), the Cardinals have scored 18 in the first two games of the NLCS. Monday night’s game got out of hand when they piled on four runs on six consecutive hits against Brewers reliever Kameron Loe in the seventh — a sequence that began with Pujols’s third double.
“We were having relentless at-bats,” Cardinals Manager Tony La Russa said, “and they were making some mistakes.”
The Brewers, who lost for the first time in five home games this postseason, suddenly appear to have some intractable problems as they head south to face three games at Busch Stadium. After Monday night’s dud from right-hander Shaun Marcum (four innings, seven hits, five earned runs) — a performance that, combined with a similar one in the NLDS, calls into question whether the Brewers can afford to give him the ball again in a potential Game 6 — their starting pitchers have a 7.61 ERA this postseason. That includes a 1.29 mark for Yovani Gallardo, who starts Game 3 for them on Wednesday night; take away Gallardo, and the rotation’s ERA is 11.51.
“I still have a lot of confidence in all our starters,” Brewers Manager Ron Roenicke said. “But I know we have to be on when we pitch to these guys.”