Wednesday, October 22, 2014

October 22, 2011 - The Albert Pujols 3-HR Show

Saturday, October 22, 2011 - World Series - Game Three - at Rangers Ballpark in Arlington vs Texas Rangers - Attendance:  51,462 - Starting Pitchers:  Kyle Lohse vs Matt Harrison  

Albert Pujols had grown weary of the relentless media criticism regarding his poor performance in the first two games of the World Series - especially after Game Two's loss to the Rangers, which was greatly facilitated by Pujols' ninth-inning error - resulting in the game-winning (unearned) run crossing the plate.

And oh, by the way, "Why aren't you getting any hits, Albert?"

To the casual observer - which includes the vast majority of media covering this Fall Classic - Pujols was clearly in a slump.  Well, after going 0 for 4 in Game Two, Albert's postseason slash line had dropped all the way down to .367/.456/.633.  That's quite a slump.

Truth is, the Cardinals were well aware that letting Game Two get away from them could have dire consequences - especially, if they also happened to lose Game Three in Arlington, Texas.

Fortunately, Game Three got off to a nice start, with a one-out first-inning solo home run off the bat of Allen Craig - earning a spot in the starting lineup after delivering two run-scoring pinch hit singles in each of the two previous games.  He now had three hits and three RBI in his first three World Series AB's.  Meanwhile, after Albert Pujols came up empty again in his first plate appearance, he was now 0 for 7.  But that would change after his next trip to the plate.

The Cardinals were still clinging to that precarious 1-0 lead when Pujols got his first World Series hit - leading-off the fourth-inning with a line drive single to left field.  The Cardinals then got a huge break when Matt Holliday's double-play grounder to shortstop Elvis Andrus was lackadaisically turned by second baseman Ian Kinsler.  His throw to first baseman Mike Napoli pulled him off the bag, forcing him to tag Holliday on the shoulder to complete the double play.  Napoli did just that, but first base umpire Ron Kulpa blew the call.

Instant replay hadn't been implemented back in those days, so there was nothing anyone could do except maybe argue, kick some dirt, shout profanities, carry the first base bag back to the dugout, shout some more profanities, kick some more dirt, and get two or three players tossed out of the game.  But that didn't happen, either.

Now, instead of two out and nobody on, the Cardinals had a sheepish Holliday (who obviously knew he was out) on first with just one out.  That's the kind of situation good teams capitalize on.

Next up - Lance Berkman lined a single to right, advancing Holliday to second.  Next up - the hottest hitter on the planet at this time - David Freese - poked an outside fastball down the right field line for a double - scoring Holliday with a gift run, as Berkman stopped at third.

With first base open, Harrison walked Yadier Molina intentionally, to set up the double play.  Jon Jay appeared to oblige with a routine grounder to Napoli at first, but his throw to home sailed past catcher Yorvit Torrealba - allowing both Berkman and Freese to score two (official) unearned runs.  On the play, Molina raced to third and Jay found himself standing on second base.

Another unearned run scored on Ryan Theriot's base hit to left - but that would conclude the scoring for now.  Harrison would be removed from the game after getting another out, as Scott Feldman took over for a while.  When the fourth-inning was in the books, the Cardinals had a comfortable 5-0 lead.

However, Kyle Lohse suddenly ran afoul in the Rangers' half of the fourth-inning.  Michael Young got Texas on the board with a lead-off home run.  Adrian Beltre followed with a single to left, which was followed by a Nelson Cruz home run, which was followed by a Mike Napoli single to center.

Following all that, Lohse was relieved of his duties by Fernando Salas who retired David Murphy on a tap just in front of home which Molina grabbed and fired to Pujols for out number one.

However, Torrealba singled to right field, advancing Napoli to third.  At this point in the game, it seemed the Cardinals were in danger of blowing the lead - which was now just a two-run advantage.

However, when Ian Kinsler lifted a fly ball to Matt Holliday in medium left, near the line, Napoli gambled, tagged up from third, but was nailed at the plate on a strong throw by Holliday.  Just like that, the inning was over, as St Louis was still clinging to a 5-3 lead.

With Feldman still on the mound for Texas to begin the fifth-inning, Pujols greeted him with a lead-off single to center.  After both Holliday and Berkman walked to load the bases, Freese moved all runners up a notch with an RBI ground out to third.  Molina then raked a two-run double to left to regain that original five-run lead they had just an inning before.  It was now 8-3 - but not for long.

In the bottom of the fifth, the Rangers knocked Salas out of the game with consecutive singles by Andrus and Hamilton, and an RBI double by Young.

Lance Lynn was the next reliever out of the Cards bullpen, and he was greeted with a run-scoring single by Beltre, cutting the deficit to 8-5 - still nobody out, with runners on first and third.  Lynn then struck out the menacing Cruz - representing the tying run - on some high heat, for the first out of the inning.  Napoli's sacrifice fly to right scored Young - then back-to-back walks to Murphy and Torrealba loaded the bases for Ian Kinsler in what was now a tight 8-6 game.

With the partisan Texas crowd raising all kinds of commotion, Lynn got Kinsler out on a pop fly to shortstop Furcal to end the nerve-wracking inning.

With the flame-throwing Alexi Ogando now pitching for the Rangers to start the sixth-inning, Theriot drew a lead-off walk, then advanced to second on Rafael Furcal's single to right.  Next up - Allen Craig - who had burned Ogando with run-scoring pinch hits on successive nights, to give the Cardinals the lead each time - didn't fare so well this time around - striking out on a high fastball.

Pujols was now batting - and he was ready for the fastball - crushing it deep to left field for a three-run home run.  FOX broadcaster Joe Buck commented, "That ball was absolutely murdered!"

After St Louis added another unearned run (error, single, walk to load the bases) on Molina's sacrifice fly, they were finally in control of this wild game - leading, 12-6.

Pujols was just getting warmed up.  With Mike Gonzalez now mopping up for Texas in the seventh-inning, he managed to walk Craig with two out and nobody on.  By this time, the crowd was fascinated with the show Pujols was staging.  As if on cue, he launched one out to left center field - a two-run home run:  14-6.

After Texas pushed across their final run in the bottom of the seventh, St Louis added one more in the eighth - on a run-scoring double by Molina - his fourth RBI on the night:  15-7.

The stage was set for Act III.  With two out in the top of the ninth, veteran lefty Darren Oliver served one up to Pujols - which was deposited in the left center field bleachers, for his third straight home run - his fifth straight hit.  Joe Buck acknowledged that Pujols had tied Reggie Jackson with that third home run, but he failed to mention the first guy to do it:  Babe Ruth (1926 vs the Cardinals).

Meanwhile, Buck's loquacious broadcast partner, Tim McCarver gushed, "Wow!  That's a wow!"

After Mitchell Boggs' anti-climactic 1-2-3 ninth-inning of work, the Cardinals had won the pivotal Game Three to take a two games to one lead in this amazing World Series.  Final score:  16-7.

Only the 1936 New York Yankees - Game Two vs New York Giants - scored more than the Cardinals did tonight - with 18 runs.

The combined two-team total of 23 runs scored is the third highest in World Series history.  '93 World Series - Game 4:  Toronto 15 - Philadelphia 14 (29 runs), followed by '97 World Series - Game 3:  Florida 14 - Cleveland 11 (25 runs).

Lance Lynn (2.1 IP - 3 H - 1 R - 2 BB - 2 SO) recorded his second postseason win in '11.

Pujols was out of his slump:  6 AB - 5 H (3 HR) - 4 R - 6 RBI.

The Cardinals would return home to Busch Stadium after dropping the next two games in Texas - trailing three games to two in the series.  Game Six would be played on October 27...

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