Babe Ruth. Reggie Jackson. Last night, Albert Pujols joined in on the company of those two legends.
Pujols because just the third player in World Series history to smack three home runs in a game. He went 5-for-6 with six runs batted in, becoming the second player in Fall Classic history with five hits, tying Paul Molitor’s 1982 Game 1 performance. His six-RBI night also tied for the most in World Series history with Bobby Richardson (1960 Game 3) and Hideki Matsui (2009 Game 6).
In addition to tying some elusive milestones all in one night, Pujols can also scribble his name alone on top of some records. He had 14 total bases yesterday, a new World Series record that had previously been shared by Ruth and Jackson with 12. Pujols also became the first player ever in a Fall Classic game to have as many as four hits, two home runs and five RBIs in one game. The fact that he was able to accumulate one more of each of those figures in a game makes this performance one of the greatest, if not the greatest, in World Series history.
The best postseason performers throughout history have been able duplicate, or ever raise their regular season numbers against the best competition when the lights shine brightest. Ruth was a career .342/.474/.690 batter in the regular season but hit .326/.467/.744 with 15 home runs and 33 RBIs in 41 career playoff games. Jackson, over his career, was a .262/.356/.490 hitter, but in the postseason, raised those numbers to .278/.358/.527 with 18 homers and 48 RBIs in 78 games. The modern-day Mr. October, Derek Jeter, is a career .313/.383/.449 batter in the regular season and in 152 career playoff games, has hit .307/.374/.465 with 20 homers and 59 RBIs.
Albert Pujols is already the closest modern-day batter to Ruth, Pujols being a career .320/.420/.617 hitter over his career. Pujols has hit more than 40 home runs in a season six times in his career, or one more time than he has finished with fewer than that standard. Since becoming a full-time position player in 1919, Ruth finished with 11 years of over 40 home runs compared to five full seasons of fewer than that number. Granted, Ruth played in 16 full seasons as a position player while Pujols, who is 31 years old, has played in 11 so far.
Pujols, though, has somehow raised his modern-day Ruthian numbers in the playoffs. Over 70 career postseason games, he is a .343/.444/.630 batter with 17 doubles, 18 home runs and 52 RBIs. If you take out his playoff numbers in his first two big league seasons at ages 21 and 22, respectively, Pujols is a .371 batter with a .445 on-base percentage, 16 homers and 45 RBIs over 57 games in the postseason. He is that rare breed who is somehow able to raise an already incredibly high-set bar in the playoffs when the lights shine brightest.
A couple months ago, I wrote that Albert Pujols was the greatest player we will ever see. His postseason performance, not only from his record-setting night in Game 3 of this year’s Fall Classic, is only adding to that legacy.
Last night was the first time I was able to see Albert Pujols play baseball in person. He did not disappoint. In his first at-bat, Pujols blasted a solo home run to tie the game at two. He finished with a perfect night at the plate, going four-for-four with two runs batted in a 5-2 St. Louis Cardinals victory over the Milwaukee Brewers. Pujols scored two runs, one on a wild pitch in which he did not hesitate and sprinted home, and also played flawless defense at first base. He flashed the complete game he has worked so hard to hone, one that has made him the greatest player we will ever see.
Albert Pujols seems to do everything well on the baseball diamond. He hits for average; Pujols has never hit lower than .312 in a full season and has five different years in which he batted at least .330. There is no one in the majors who is a more consistent power hitter; Pujols has 436 career home runs, topping at least 40 bombs in six different seasons. He is currently tied for the National League with 28 dingers. In the field, he is a two-time Gold Glove Award winner, despite not playing first base fulltime until 2004. He also provides versatility to the Cardinals, as he can play third base or the outfield in addition to a Gold-Glove-caliber first base. Pujols may not possess top-flight speed, but he is one of the best baserunners in the league. By scoring on a wild pitch yesterday, he demonstrated the perfect instincts of when to take off towards home. He always knows when he can or cannot take an extra-base on a hit because he always checks where the outfielders are positioned and how strong their arms are.
With everything Pujols brings to St. Louis, there is no one who is a more steady force in every facet of the game than him. His finishes in the Most Valuable Player voting at the end of each season reflects that consistency. He is a three-time Most Valuable Player award winner. In his rookie year, he finished fourth in the MVP voting. Since then, he has finished outside the top three of the MVP voting just once in nine seasons, finishing second four times.
Not surprisingly, a case could be made for Pujols to be the MVP in almost every season he has played in. His numbers are so consistent that what I might consider his best season, someone else might consider it his worst. There is almost no way to differentiate his .359/.439/.667, 51-double, 43-homer, 124-RBI, 137-run 2003 season (second in NL MVP voting) from his .357/.462/.653, 44-double, 37-homer, 116-RBI, 100-run 2008 year (MVP winner). Those seasons look similar to a .331/.431/.671, 33-double, 49-homer, 137-RBI, 119-run 2006 (second in MVP) and his 2009 season in which he won the NL MVP by batting .327/.443/.658 with 45 doubles, 47 home runs, 135 RBIs and 124 runs scored. Pujols may have won the MVP in 2005 (.330/.430/.609, 38 doubles, 41 home runs, 117 RBIs, 129 runs scored), but his 2004 numbers (.331/.415/.657, 51 doubles, 46 home runs, 123 RBIs, 133 runs) and 2010 stats (.312/.414/.596, 39 doubles, 42 homers, 118 RBIs, 115 runs) are probably better, yet he finished third in the MVP balloting in 2004 and second in 2010. Pujols’ yearly statistics are almost interchangeable. His numbers are so consistent that it almost feels like voters decide they have to give the award to someone else because Pujols has no “best” season. He never surpasses his lofty standards, but he doesn’t underperform, either. He is just constantly great.
Albert Pujols brings everything a baseball player can to a the diamond everyday. He is a terrific hitter who hits for both average and power. He plays a flawless first base but can also play other places in the field to help out his team. He is not fast, yet is possibly the best baserunner in baseball. Pujols has been so good for so long that his numbers each season are pretty much interchangeable. He has set the bar so high for himself that he has no “best” season. However, Pujols almost never fails to reach his standard for excellence. Only the greatest players in baseball history have been this consistent for this long. For our generation, Albert Pujols is the greatest player we will ever see.