McAdam: Best performance ever

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McAdam: Best performance ever

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.

Farrell: Price to make first Red Sox start of year Monday in Chicago

Farrell: Price to make first Red Sox start of year Monday in Chicago

David Price may have allowed six runs in 3 2/3 innings Wednesday night during his second rehab start in Triple-A, but the Red Sox apparently liked what they saw.

MORE ON PRICE

Manager John Farrell announced moments ago that Price will rejoin the Red Sox Monday and start that day's game in Chicago against the White Sox. Farrell said the Sox were more concerned with how Price felt physically after his rehab start, not the results, and they're satisfied he's ready to return.

More to come . . . 

Chili Davis: Red Sox hitters' lack of strikeouts not by design

Chili Davis: Red Sox hitters' lack of strikeouts not by design


BOSTON - The Red Sox aren’t hitting for power as much as they’re expected to and they’re striking out less than anyone. Far less.
 
So, maybe they should just swing harder? 
 
It’s not that simple, considering they have the second-best batting average in the majors, .271, and the third-best on-base percentage, .342.
 
Entering Thursday, the Sox had 300 strikeouts, 34 fewer than the 29th team on the list, the Mets. (The Mets have also played 34 games, while the Sox have already played 36.)
 
In April, when this trend was already evident, Red Sox hitting coach Chili Davis was asked if the lack of strikeouts were by design.
 
“I don’t think it’s purposeful,” Davis said. “But that can be a good thing and it could be a bad thing. You know, to me striking out is never good, but it’s how you strike out that matters to me. 
 
“You chase pitches early and you put a guy in a two-strike count and allow him to use his strikeout pitch or his finish pitch, it’s not a good way to strike out. If you’er battling, if you’re taking good swings at pitches, or if the guy’s making pitches, different story. Not striking out because you understand you’re still getting to have a quality at-bat.
 
“To be honest with you, there are guys in certain situations I’d rather see 'em strike out, believe me. And it kind of sounds stupid.”
 
No, it doesn’t. Because in the Moneyball era people started to widely understand that with runners on, a strikeout can be a better outcome than simply putting the ball in play because of the double-play possibility. One out on a swing [or no swing] is a lot better than two.
 
“Exactly,” Davis said. “In a double-play situation, with a big slow guy running and two strikes on him, and he just put the ball in play, he’s done exactly what they wanted him to do.”
 
What a coincidence: the Sox have grounded into more double plays than all but two teams. They’re tied with the Blue Jays with 51, trailing the Astros’ 54.
 
Last year, the Sox had the eighth-most double plays and the fourth-fewest strikeouts. But they also led the majors in slugging percentage, whereas this year they’re in the bottom third. (They’ve perked up in May.)
 
“I don’t think they’re necessarily swinging to not strike out,” Davis said in April. “But, I think the home runs haven’t come because you know, I don’t think we’ve actually gotten on track yet as an offense the way we would like to.”
 
Davis cited the weather, which in Boston has continued to be chilly even into May. Hitters have noted the weather too, but that only goes so far.
 
Sox manager John Farrell on Wednesday noted the team’s draft philosophy.
 
“If you go back to the origin of the players that are here, a lot of them came through our draft and our system,” Farrell said. “So there was a conscious effort to get the more rounded athlete, not a one-dimensional player...Throughout their minor league career, there’s great emphasis on strike-zone discipline, understanding your limits within the zone. That’s not to suggest you’re going to forfeit the power that you have, but to be a more complete hitter, I think that’s going to win you championships rather than being one dimensional.”
 
But much of this year’s lineup is the same as last year’s.
 
In 2017, the Sox are swinging at 44.2 percent of pitches, fewer than all but four teams. Last year, they swung at 44.3 percent of pitches, second-to-last. So, that hasn’t changed.
 
Last year, their contact rate was 81.6 percent, highest in the majors. This year, it’s the second-highest, 80.1. That hasn’t really changed either.
 
Maybe the process hasn’t in fact changed much at all, in fact — but the outcomes are looking different because that’s how it goes sometimes. At the least, it’s something to keep an eye on as the year progresses.