ARLINGTON, Tex. — By shifting some 650 miles to the south-southwest Saturday night, the World Series gained about 30 degrees of autumnal warmth, a pair of designated hitters, a whole lot of cowboy hats in the stands and a new dimension commonly known as “offense.”
On a night when those pitchers’ duels in St. Louis felt a lifetime ago, and when a parade of pitchers took to the mound and exited in shame, Pujols, the St. Louis Cardinals incomparable slugger, had a performance for the ages. He homered three times in the Cardinals’ gory 16-7 win over the Texas Rangers in Game 3, silencing a crowd of 51,462 and giving the Cardinals a two-games-to-one lead in the best-of-seven series.
“It’s pretty special,” Pujols said. “To do it at that level and on this stage is amazing.”
Pujols, who went 5 for 6 and drove in six runs, became only the third player in history to homer three times in a World Series game, joining Babe Ruth, who did it twice, and Reggie Jackson. His 14 total bases set a new World Series record, while his five hits and six RBI both tied records.
“He’s better than Babe Ruth and Reggie Jackson combined,” teammate Lance Berkman said.
“Show me [a performance] that was better,” Manager Tony La Russa said. “That would be hard to do. . . . He’s been great for a long time, but this has got to be the greatest.”
It was as if the Cardinals and Rangers were playing an entirely different game than the ones witnessed Wednesday and Thursday. Those were full of great pitching and defense. This one was full of towering home runs, gassed pitchers, lengthy strings of base hits and some gruesome defense.
Pujols was not alone in his destruction of pitchers. From the fourth through seventh innings alone, the Cardinals scored 13 runs — or five more than both teams had scored, combined, in the two games in St. Louis — helped by a pair of errors on Texas infielders and a blown call at first base by umpire Ron Kulpa, which preceded a four-run Cardinals burst in the fourth.
Meantime, the Rangers chased Cardinals starting pitcher Kyle Lohse in the fourth inning, batted around in the fifth, collected 13 hits and two homers of their own — yet still managed to lose by nine runs.
After two crisp games at chilly, pitcher-friendly Busch Stadium, there was bound to be a shift in emphasis in Game 3. According to ESPN.com’s “park factor” ratings, Rangers Ballpark was the most hitter-friendly stadium in the majors this season, while St. Louis’s Busch Stadium ranked 25th. Every expectation was that the respective offenses were about to get untracked.
It took three innings until it happened, but when it did, the onslaught was unrelenting. The Cardinals scored four in the top of the fourth against Rangers starter Matt Harrison — aided by the botched call by Kulpa, who ruled Matt Holliday safe at first base on a wide throw from second baseman Ian Kinsler, when replays showed him being tagged out a good half-step before the bag — but the Rangers answered with three in the bottom half, on homers by Michael Young and Nelson Cruz.
“The game could have turned out different,” Harrison said of the blown call. “That’s four runs. [The Cardinals] may or may not have scored that inning.”
Then, three more for the Cardinals in the top of the fifth, and three more for the Rangers in the bottom half, making it 8-6, Cardinals. The difference from that point was that La Russa found a reliever who could stanch the bleeding, right-hander Lance Lynn, while the Rangers’ Ron Washington could not. Lynn entered during the interminable fifth inning, and gave La Russa seven crucial outs in the middle of the game.
The first of Pujols’s two homers — a majestic, three-run blast that slammed into the facing of the second deck — came against Rangers flamethrower Alexi Ogando, who seemed so unhittable during the American League Championship Series, but who has been battered around by the Cardinals. The second, a two-run shot to left-center on a first-pitch fastball, victimized Mike Gonzalez, a matchup lefty who probably never guessed he would be facing Pujols at any point in this series.
“When Ogando couldn’t come in and get it done,” Washington said, “we knew we were in trouble right there.”
Pujols’s third homer, a solo shot in the ninth, was also against a lefty, veteran Darren Oliver, and sailed into the seats in left.
“You just hope when he comes up,” Oliver said, “there’s no one on base.”
Pujols had gone 0 for 6 with a pair of walks in Games 1 and 2 — the Cardinals had batted .203 in those two games, the Rangers .186 — then created a minor controversy by skipping out of the Cardinals’ clubhouse after Game 2 without speaking to members of the media. (He later said he left because no media members asked to speak with him.)
When Pujols spoke in the interview room after Saturday night’s performance, he mostly deflected questions about himself or his achievement and highlighted his team’s effort. Perhaps he understood better than most that there was nothing he could have said about Game 3 more revealing than the statement he had made with his bat.