ARLINGTON, Texas (AP) — Albert Pujols began the game hoping to shake his slump and maybe get a hit.
He did that, and a whole lot more: He produced the defining game of his career, and perhaps the greatest hitting performance in World Series history.
Pujols launched three impressive homers, drove in six runs and finished with five hits – tying a Series record with each accomplishment – as the St. Louis Cardinals romped past the Texas Rangers 16-7 on Saturday night for a 2-1 edge.
“Just pretty special,” he said.
The three-time NL MVP matched Babe Ruth and Reggie Jackson for the most home runs in a game. Pujols added two singles and set a Series mark with 14 total bases.
“Hopefully, at the end of my career, I can look back and say, ‘Wow, what a game it was in Game 3 in 2011,” Pujols said.
And to think, his night began with a groundout that left him 0 for 7 against Texas
“I mean, with Babe and Reggie, that’s pretty good company right there,” Cardinals manager Tony La Russa said.
The outburst by Pujols came a day after he was barbed by the media for not sticking around to talk about a Game 2 error and loss. This time, everyone was talking about him.
“When the opportunity presents itself to put him on the bag, I’m not going to let him swing the bat,” Texas manager Ron Washington said. “But tonight, we just couldn’t get the ball out of the middle of the plate and up, and he just didn’t miss.
“I saw him on TV but I’ll tell you, tonight was something special.”
The Cardinals mashed their way to the highest-scoring game in their storied postseason history, breaking away after first base umpire Ron Kulpa’s admitted blown call.
After two taut games in St. Louis, this suddenly turned into a messy slugfest. Pujols, the most feared slugger in the majors, was right in the middle – he became the first player in Series history to get hits in four straight innings.
So much for any worries about Pujols making a dent.
“I was hitting the ball hard, but I wasn’t getting any hits,” he said. “But all it takes is one good game. I got five hits, what are they going to say about it?”
Texas fans booed after Kulpa’s miss helped the Cardinals score four times in the fourth for a 5-0 lead. The crowd at Rangers Ballpark went silent when Pujols started swinging for the fences, and beyond. His three-run shot in the sixth rattled the windows of the club level in left field.
Game 4 is Sunday night, with Derek Holland starting for the Rangers against Edwin Jackson. It will be the back half of a St. Louis-Texas style doubleheader – earlier in the day, the Rams play the Dallas Cowboys right across the parking lot.
This game had an NFL score, too. The teams combined for 23 runs and 28 hits – at Busch Stadium, they teamed for eight runs and 23 hits in two games.
“You leave a ball up in this park it’s going to carry a little more than it does in St. Louis,” Pujols said.
Pujols joined Ruth, who hit three homers in games against the Cardinals in 1926 and 1928, and Jackson’s three-homer show against the Dodgers in 1977. Pujols’ six RBIs matched Bobby Richardson in 1960 and Hideki Matsui in 2009.
Oh, Pujols also matched the Series mark for hits in a game set by Paul Molitor in 1982.
“It’s an honor to be named in the same category as those guys,” Pujols said.
Good-luck charm Allen Craig homered for St. Louis and Yadier Molina drove in four runs. The Cardinals broke it open by scoring four times in the fourth, three more in the fifth and four in the sixth.
Adrian Beltre kept mashing for the Texas, getting four hits and driving in four runs.
Pujols, however, showed exactly why he is the most prized free agent of all going into this winter.
The big slugger connected off Alexi Ogando in the sixth, hit a two-run drive off Michael Gonzalez in the seventh and tagged Darren Oliver for a solo shot with two outs in the ninth.
“When Pujols is at the plate, that’s the first time he did damage. We fought back pretty good, the next thing you know he’s up there batting with guys on base and brings them in,” Oliver said. “That’s what he does. That’s why he’s the hitter he is.”
By the end, Rangers president Nolan Ryan was rubbing his forehead and it was hard to keep track of all the hits. Balls were rolling into the corners, sailing over the fence and going most everywhere.
In the seventh, a fan wearing a Rangers shirt threw a ball toward St. Louis left fielder Matt Holliday as he was preparing to catch a fly ball. The fan was led away by security.
Early in the game, it appeared Kulpa’s call would be the focal point.
The Cardinals led 1-0 when Pujols led off the fourth with a single. Holliday followed with a perfect double-play ball, but was ruled safe by Kulpa at first. Replays clearly show part-time first baseman Mike Napoli caught second baseman Ian Kinsler’s high toss and slapped a tag on Holliday before he reached the bag.
Kulpa said he thought Holliday beat the tag. The Rangers argued, to no avail.
“Well, he missed the play and I knew he missed the play when I went out there,” Washington said.
After the game, Kulpa said: “I saw a replay when I walked off the field, and the tag was applied before his foot hit the bag.”
The Cardinals quickly scored four times, helped when Napoli threw wide to the plate for an error that let two runs cross. Texas fans booed as replays of the bad call circulated – they won’t be happy to learn, either, that Kulpa was born, raised and lives in the St. Louis area.
“Has nothing to do with it,” Kulpa said.
For the Cardinals, perhaps it was a little evening up, albeit many years later. The call came four days before the anniversary of umpire Don Denkinger’s missed call at first base in the 1985 World Series that severely cost St. Louis.
Starters Kyle Lohse of St. Louis and Matt Harrison were both pulled in the fourth inning. Soon after, it was clear that no pitchers were going to be too effective.
Lance Lynn earned the win with 2 1-3 innings of relief and Harrison took the loss.
NOTES: La Russa earned his 68th postseason victory. He moved ahead of Bobby Cox into second place. Joe Torre leads with 84. … Mavericks star Dirk Nowitzki threw out the first ball. The 7-foot Nowitzki fired a fastball from the mound that Young scooped. There has never been a 7-foot major leaguer, though 7-1 pitcher Loek Van Mil is in the Angels’ system.
Copyright Associated Press