Albert Pujols answered the call of duty.
After his team was humiliated by the Milwaukee Brewers in Game 1 of the NLCS the night before, St. Louis Manager Tony La Russa predicted Pujols would be the hitting star of Game 2. And the St. Louis slugger delivered, single-handedly dismantling the Brewers on Monday night to even the series at one game apiece.
Pujols had a career defining performance in part two of the National League championship series. With an overwhelming display of power, he went 4-for-5 with a homerun, three doubles and five RBIs to lead the Cardinals past the Brewers 12-3.
After Milwaukee’s explosive Game 1 win, the Brewers and Cards engaged in a complete reversal of play. In Sunday night’s opener it was the Brew’s crew supernovas’ Ryan Braun and Prince Fielder who bashed the Cardinals in a 9-6 come-from-behind victory. On Monday night, it was Pujols who put on a hitting clinic, as he game out the gate swinging. The veteran first baseman belted a two-run homer in the first inning –his first since Game 1 of the 2006 World Series- off of Brewers starter Shaun Marcum, followed by a two-run double in the third, an RBI double in the fifth and then another double in the seventh. Brewers’ fans at Miller Park were completely stunned by Pujol’s performance and at how fast the momentum shifted in the series. The crowd of almost 44,000 could only laugh to keep themselves from crying. When the Cardinals leader finally made an out on a broken-bat grounder in the eighth inning, the crowd couldn’t help but to cheer sarcastically.
According to ESPN Stats and Information, Pujols became the fourth player in postseason history to accumulated four extra-base hits in a playoff game, joining Hideki Matsui of the Yankees, Pirates great Bob Robertson and Frank Isbell of the 1906 White Sox.
After the Cardinals second baseman Nick Punto contributed a run-scoring single in the fourth, the Brewers showed some life in the bottom of the inning, cutting the deficit to 5-2 when Milwaukee second baseman Rickie Weeks smacked a two-run homer to left field. But Milwaukee’s rally was short lived courtesy of Pujols. In the fifth, he smacked a double off Brewers reliever Marco Estrada into right, scoring Jon Jay to increase the lead to 6-2. Two outs later -in what was the play of the game- the raging Pujols darted home on a wild pitch, beating the throw by catcher Jonathan Lucroy with a feet-first slide. He received his final hit of the evening in the seventh inning, sending a ball down the right-field line that bounced in the stands for a ground-rule double. And he later scored the Cardinals’ eighth run when outfielder Matt Holliday singled to right, capping off a four-run inning.
Prince Fielder was the Brewers last hope when stepped to the plate in the bottom of the eighth. He hit an inconsequential solo-homer in the inning, which was later rescinded by the Cardinals’ David Freese own homerun in the ninth, making the final score 12-3.
Cardinals’ starter Edwin Jackson went four and a third innings, giving up Weeks’ homer. St. Louis relief pitcher Lance Lynn picked up the win.
The series now shifts to St. Louis, where Cardinals ace Chris Carpenter takes the mound against Brewers right-hander Yovani Gallardo for Game 3 on Wednesday night. Will the mighty Pujols treat Cardinals fans to an encore performance?
Photo: LA Times