Pujols back among leaders after weekend HR binge
Albert Pujols laughed at the scrutiny over his longball drought,
saying it could’ve lasted twice as long – three times, even – and
he still would’ve been the same dangerous presence at the
The three-time NL MVP, generally acknowledged as the best player
in the game, wondered why so many people were obsessed about his
105 at-bat stretch between home runs that ended late last
The slump certainly raised questions throughout baseball. Did
his surgically repaired right elbow hurt? Were his occasionally
troublesome hamstrings barking? Was he stressed out over impending
free agency? Was he somehow slowing down at age 31?
”What’s the big deal?” Pujols said Friday afternoon. ”Give me
A few hours later, the St. Louis Cardinals slugger began a binge
that muted all concerns.
In a weekend sweep of the Chicago Cubs, Pujols homered four
times and drove in eight runs. He hit a game-winning homer in the
12th inning Saturday. He then launched a game-ending shot in the
10th inning Sunday, punctuating it with a prolonged follow-through
and a high-stepping dance into a home plate celebration.
The power show put Pujols among the league leaders with a
team-leading 13 homers and thriving even with cleanup hitter Matt
Holliday on the 15-day disabled list with a quadriceps injury.
So much for all that fuss.
”Albert,” said Rodrigo Lopez, who served up Sunday’s big home
run, ”is pretty hot right now.”
Pujols clearly knew what he was capable of doing. Prior to the
series opener against the Cubs, he posed his own question.
”How many times did I hit 14 home runs in one month? Search it,
search about it. You should know that,” Pujols challenged. ”You
know what the problem is, the good things never hit the
Answer: Pujols hit 14 in April 2006 and June 2009. The point:
He’ll sometimes have a slow month, such as this May and September
2002 when he hit only two, and July 2009 when he had four.
Cardinals batting coach Mark McGwire received the same treatment
during his home run heyday in the late 1990s, facing questions
about perceived slumps after as few as a dozen at-bats. At one
point in those days, Big Mac loudly asked media assembled by his
locker stall if they had wives and families to go home to.
Now, it’s worse.
”The expectations of the media, the social network,
everybody,” McGwire said. ”They want to have a new story and talk
Cardinals manager Tony La Russa said Pujols is capable of fixing
his own problems. Evidence is the unrelenting metronome production
Pujols has cranked out the best opening decade to a career in major
league history with a solid string of 30-homer, 100-RBI, .300
During Pujols’ first real bout of adversity, McGwire said there
was no need for the two to spend more time than usual searching for
answers. A bit of fine-tuning and hours of repetition would be
enough, he said.
”It’s hard not to talk about how great this guy is and how hard
he works. It’s just unbelievable,” McGwire said. ”I really think
it all comes down to pitch selection and the pitches he sees.
”By the time the year is over people will see his numbers where
they’ve always been.”
Contrary to evidence, La Russa has been banging the Pujols drum
all season, conceding only that the star was lunging after pitches
the first week or 10 days of the season. Along with a so-so average
that was up to .278 after a 10 for 23 splurge, Pujols was tied for
the major league lead with 16 double-play balls.
”A couple guys said he had buzzard’s luck,” La Russa said.
”In Albert’s case I was surprised that after 10 years of making a
statement, that there was that much concern.”
After Sunday’s game, La Russa said he witnessed ”greatness in
”We see it every day for 10 years, two months. Hoping for a
lousy single and he hits it out of the park.”
A handful of times during his breakout weekend, Pujols declared
that nobody in the major leagues had been hitting the ball as hard
as he had the past month, and that he’d simply had far more than
his share of misfortune with balls that got caught at the warning
track and with liners that were snared.
”You follow me, you can’t believe I’m hitting .260,” Pujols
said. ”There’s nothing I can do. That’s it, there’s nothing you
The first truly humid homestand no doubt contributed to Pujols’
surge. The power alley to left-center field is suddenly a jet
stream, and the estimated distance of his no-doubt-about-it homer
on Sunday was 446 feet, deep into the bleachers.
Pujols homered twice Saturday and La Russa said both shots
probably would have hung up in the air had Busch Stadium not been
bathed in 90-plus degree temperatures and shirt-soaking
”The elements got him,” La Russa said. ”That’s why it was an
unnecessary conversation for a long time about his power. Nothing
wrong with his power.”