McAdam: Best performance ever

McAdam: Best performance ever
October 23, 2011, 5:38 am
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ARLINGTON, Texas -- For the past 11 years, Albert Pujols has been, inarguably, the best player in baseball.

After the 2011 season, Pujols led all active players in batting average, slugging percentage and OPS. Only an injury that caused him to miss two weeks stopped him from extending his streak of seasons with at least a .300 batting average, 30 or more homers and 100 or more RBI to 11 straight years.

But Pujols had yet to make his mark in the World Series.

In 11 games in the Series -- swept in four games by the Red Sox in 2004; a World Series win in five over Detroit in 2006; and the first two games of the current Series -- Pujols had exactly one homer and two RBI, numbers that seem like a misprint.

Saturday night, that changed in a hurry. In the span of five at-bats, Pujols had what may well be the greatest game by any individual in World Series history.

Ever.

He hit three homers, added two singles and totaled six RBI and 14 total bases.

Only Babe Ruth (twice) and Reggie Jackson had ever had three homers in the same World Series game. And neither of them had ever collected five hits, or six RBI or, for that matter, 14 total bases.

St. Louis manager Tony La Russa was asked to put his slugger's game into proper historical context.

"I think the best thing to do is,'' said La Russa after considering the damage Pujols had done, "you make the statement and ask somebody: 'Okay, show me a game that was better.' I think it would be hard to do.''

La Russa is the only manager Pujols has ever had in the big leagues and he's seen it all. But even La Russa seemed overwhelmed by the night.

"It's the latest example of how great he is,'' said La Russa.

Not best, or most obvious. Latest. It was if La Russa had already considered the fact that Pujols might outdo himself, say, Sunday night.

Until Saturday night, Pujols's most striking contribution to this World Series came when he mishandled a cutoff throw from the outfield in the ninth inning from teammate John Jay in Game 2, leading to the Cards' loss.

Pujols then didn't make himself available to the media after the game, creating a mini-firestorm on Friday's off-day, with Pujols unrepentant over his postgame disappearing act.

The Cardinals don't care much whether Pujols stands in front of his locker or at a podium in a postgame press conference setting. They care only about his bat.

Texas starter Matt Harrison lasted just 3 23 innings in Game 3, but he did accomplish what no other Rangers pitcher would do when he got Pujols to ground out in the first.

The next five plate appearances by Pujols would not end so harmlessly for the Rangers.

It was if he was ramping up, from one at-bat to the next, each more impressive than the one before: Single, single, homer, homer and homer.

Actually, the first homer was the hardest hit, marking just the 15th time in the history of The Ballpark at Arlington that a ball was hit off the club level -- or second deck.

That ball was measured at 423 feet, which sounded suspiciously short given the ferocity with which the ball was struck.

True to his exceedingly humble nature, Pujols appeared uncomfortable being the focus of the Cardinals' win.

It might be better for baseball if Pujols had the sort of self-awareness that, say, Kobe Bryant or Alexander Ovechkin had, someone who seemed at ease in the spotlight, someone who oozed star quality.

Instead, Pujols seems to shrink out of the batter's box, reduced by his own modest nature.

"I didn't walk into the ballpark today thinking that I was going to have a night like this,'' said Pujols.

Of course not. Nobody walks into the ballpark thinking about three homers, five hits, six RBI and 14 total bases.

Those thoughts come in your sleep, when you dream of the kind of night that Albert Pujols had Saturday night, when the game's greatest player enjoyed the single best World Series game ever.