October 22, 2011: Albert Pujols slugs three home runs in Game 3 of the World Series

With three home runs in Game 3 of the 2011 World Series, Albert Pujols didn’t just correct course after an 0-for-6 start to the Fall Classic, or turn attention away from the brief controversy that came after he didn’t speak to the media after the Cardinals’ 2-1 loss in Game 2 of the series.

With three blasts in the final four innings of Game 3, Pujols joined Babe Ruth (1926 and 1928) and Reggie Jackson (1977) as the only players in baseball history to hit three home runs in a World Series game. With five total hits in the game, he also set a World Series record with 14 total bases and tied another mark with his six RBIs.

“There it is, the greatest night in World Series history,” Cardinals manager Tony La Russa said, “and we saw it.”[1]

Pujols and the Cardinals’ offense both got better as the game progressed. Facing 25-year-old left-hander Matt Harrison, a 14-game winner with a 3.39 ERA during the regular season, the Cardinals totaled just two hits in the first three innings. With Lance Berkman at designated hitter, that opened a spot in the lineup for Allen Craig, who hit the second pitch he saw from Harrison for a solo home run. The next hitter, Pujols, grounded out to Adrian Beltre at third base. It proved to be the only time the Rangers retired Pujols all night.

As Harrison cruised through the second and third innings, 32-year-old Cardinals starter Kyle Lohse kept the Ranger offense in check. Like Harrison, Lohse had won 14 games and posted an identical 3.39 ERA over 188 1/3 innings. Through the first three innings of Game 3, he allowed just one hit – a single by Beltre.

Both offenses awoke in the fourth. After Pujols singled to left, Cardinals cleanup hitter Matt Holliday hit a ground ball to Elvis Andrus at shortstop, who flipped the ball to second baseman Ian Kinsler to erase Pujols from the basepaths. Kinsler’s throw to first for the double play sailed wide, forcing Mike Napoli to come off the bag and attempt to swipe tag Holliday. On the television replays, Napoli appeared to tag Holliday on his shoulder before he reached first.

“Everything happened so fast,” Holliday said. “I don’t know. I don’t know where he tagged me, if we just ran into each other and I ended up on the ground. As a runner, you’re not really aware of what happens.”[2]

The safe call by first base umpire Ron Kulpa proved key, as Berkman singled and David Freese hit an RBI double. After Harrison intentionally walked Yadier Molina to load the bases, Jon Jay grounded to Napoli at first, who threw wild attempting to get Berkman out at home. Freese also scored on the play, and after Ryan Theriot singled to drive Molina home, the Cardinals had a 5-0 lead.

The Rangers, however, weren’t done. Designated hitter Michael Young led off with a solo home run, and after Beltre’s second single of the game, Nelson Cruz hit a two-run blast. After Napoli singled, La Russa emerged from the dugout. With a 5-3 lead, Lohse’s night was over after three innings.

Fernando Salas, who saved 24 games during the regular season before Jason Motte claimed the closer’s role, got David Murphy to ground out. After Yorvit Torrealba singled to advance Napoli to third, Ian Kinsler lifted a fly ball to left field. Holliday settled under it, then threw out Napoli at the plate as he attempted to score.

“I knew if I made a good throw, we might have a chance,” Holliday said. “Yadi did a good job of catching it and putting a tag on him. You never know how many runs it’s going to take, especially in this ballpark, to beat those guys.”[3]

The Cardinals added three more runs off Feldman in the fifth. Pujols singled and Holliday and Berkman each walked to load the bases. Freese, the Lafayette High School alum, grounded out to score Pujols before Molina followed with a two-run double that gave St. Louis an 8-3 lead.

Undeterred, the Rangers fought back in the bottom half of the inning. After Andrus and Josh Hamilton each singled, Young doubled to score Andrus and chase Salas from the game. Beltre hit an RBI single off Cardinals reliever Lance Lynn, and Napoli added a sacrifice fly that cut the Cardinals’ lead to 8-6. After Lynn walked Murphy and Torrealba to load the bases, he got Kinsler to pop up to Furcal at shortstop to end the inning.

At that point, Pujols took over the game. Theriot and Furcal each reached base ahead of Pujols. As St. Louis Post-Dispatch columnist Bryan Burwell described it, Pujols’ first home run of the day “left home plate with a majestic sense of urgency, banging off the concrete façade above the left-field Diamond Club, a 423-foot, three-run rocket that gave the Cards an 11-6 lead. Pujols stroked that ball so hard that the sold-out crowd gasped, then fell silent as Pujols paused to admire his handiwork, let the bat go with an insolent flip, then quickly trotted around the bases.”[4]

“It’s Albert,” Chris Carpenter said. “When there’s big pressure, big game, big moment, he’s at his best.”[5]

In the seventh, Pujols hit a two-run homer off Mike Gonzalez that extended the Cardinals’ lead to 14-6. After Napoli hit a sacrifice fly in the seventh, Molina added an RBI double in the eighth to drive home his fourth run of the game.

In the ninth, with the game well in hand, Pujols hit his third home run, a solo shot off Darren Oliver that made the final score 16-7.

“He’s been great for a long time but this has to be the greatest,” La Russa said. “Has someone had a better day – ever – in the World Series? Show me one that’s better. I think it would be hard to do.”[6]

As Burwell wrote, “This was as dramatic as Kirk Gibson’s stiff-legged trot around the Dodger Stadium base path. This was Bobby Thomson chilling. This was Carlton Fisk amazing. This was Bill Mazeroski magnificent. And now we can add Albert Pujols to that stunning list of World Series power moments.”[7]

The Cardinals finished the evening with 15 hits. In addition to Pujols’ five, Berkman, Freese, and Molina each had two.

The 16 St. Louis runs were the most the Cardinals have scored in a World Series game, topping the 13 they scored in Game 6 of the 1982 World Series and two behind the 1936 Yankees’ record 18 runs against the cross-town Giants.[8]

The Cardinals scored against all six Rangers pitchers they faced.

“I don’t know what combination I could have used to stop ’em. We couldn’t stop ’em,” Rangers manager Ron Washington said. “I just hope we can make (Pujols) chase some stuff, not put stuff in the wrong spot. Tonight we couldn’t get the ball out of the middle of the plate and up. He didn’t miss.”[9]

Although Lohse allowed three earned runs in three innings and Salas was touched up for three runs in his inning of work, Lynn righted the ship with 2 1/3 innings to earn the win. He allowed one run on three hits.

“The rookie came up big, getting seven outs and preventing the Rangers from rallying again,” wrote St. Louis Post-Dispatch columnist Bernie Miklasz. “Lynn stopped the bleeding. If the Cardinals win this World Series, we’ll note that it was Lynn who applied the bandage.”[10]

Octavio Dotel added 1 2/3 scoreless innings and Mitchell Boggs worked a 1-2-3 ninth. Even as Lynn claimed his second win of the postseason, he told reporters that Pujols’ performance would be one of his lasting memories of the game.

“It was fun to watch him do what he did tonight, and just to be a teammate of his when he did something like that,” Lynn said. “That’s something I’m going to be able to tell my kids and grandkids that I actually witnessed that in person.”[11]

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[1] Bernie Miklasz, “A performance for the ages,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, October 23, 2011.

[2] Derrick Goold, “The Middle Man,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, October 23, 2011.

[3] Derrick Goold, “The Middle Man,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, October 23, 2011.

[4] Bryan Burwell, “Pujols powers into history,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, October 23, 2011.

[5] Joe Strauss, “Greatest Game,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, October 23, 2011.

[6] Joe Strauss, “Greatest Game,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, October 23, 2011.

[7] Bryan Burwell, “Pujols powers into history,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, October 23, 2011.

[8] Rick Hummel, “Busting Out,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, October 23, 2011.

[9] Joe Strauss, “Greatest Game,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, October 23, 2011.

[10] Bernie Miklasz, “A performance for the ages,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, October 23, 2011.

[11] Bernie Miklasz, “A performance for the ages,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, October 23, 2011.