April 16, 2006: Albert Pujols hits three home runs, including walk-off, to beat the Reds

With three home runs, including a walk-off, two-run home run in the bottom of the ninth, Albert Pujols closed Busch Stadium III’s first homestand in style.

Pujols and more than 36,000 Cardinals fans[1] celebrated Easter on April 16, 2006, with an 8-7 win over the Reds that included three home runs and five RBIs from Pujols. Each of the Cardinals first baseman’s blasts came off different Cincinnati pitchers.

“This is one where you’ll be lost for words,” Cardinals manager Tony La Russa said. “No thoughts, no description of the game. … I’m at a loss to describe it, man. There’s a new memory for new Busch. … It’ll be tough to top that one.”[2]

Earlier that month, the Cardinals had opened their season with a six-game road swing before coming home to open Busch Stadium III with a 6-4 win over the Brewers. After taking two of three from Milwaukee, the Cardinals split their first two games against the Reds to enter the rubber game with a 6-5 record on the young season.

The game went back and forth from the outset. Mark Mulder, who was coming off a 16-win campaign in his first season in St. Louis, allowed an RBI single to Reds right fielder Austin Kearns in the first inning. The Cardinals immediately answered as their own right fielder, John Rodriguez, lined a two-run triple into the right-field corner off Reds starter Bronson Arroyo.

The Cardinals held a 2-1 lead until the top of the fifth. With two outs, Mulder gave up a two-run home run to Adam Dunn, followed by a solo home run by Kearns to give the Reds a 4-2 lead.

Once again, however, the Cardinals answered. After Aaron Miles singled, Pujols hit his first home run of the game, a line drive over the left-field wall that tied the score.

“He’s legit as they come in the game,” Arroyo said. “He doesn’t swing at bad pitches. He put a good swing on anything in the zone. It doesn’t matter what you’re throwing. He seems to track the ball good no matter what speed it is or where it’s located.”[3]

Scott Rolen followed with his third home run of the season to give St. Louis the 5-4 lead.

“I felt pretty good today,” Pujols said. “I had a tough night Friday. I couldn’t see the ball real well. Yesterday (Saturday), I made a couple adjustments and it worked out for me. Now I’m seeing the ball pretty good.”[4]

Reds manager Jerry Narron called on reliever Rick White to replace Arroyo after five innings. While White retired the side in order in the sixth, Pujols took him the opposite way in bottom of the seventh to extend the Cardinals’ lead to 6-4.

The Reds, however, had one more comeback in their tank. Pinch hitter Quinton McCracken led off the eighth with a home run off 24-year-old reliever Adam Wainwright, who was then replaced with left-hander Randy Flores. Flores retired Javier Valentin, but a walk and an error put runners at first and third before La Russa called on Braden Looper.

Reds first baseman Rich Aurilia greeted Looper with a two-run double into the right-field gap, pushing Cincinnati ahead once more, 7-6.

That lead held until the ninth inning. With his bench down to just backup catcher Gary Bennett, La Russa called upon starter Jason Marquis to pinch-hit for Looper. The move worked, as Marquis, who won the pitchers’ National League Silver Slugger Award in 2005, singled up the middle off Reds closer David Weathers to bring Pujols to the plate.

I’m just trying to put the bat on the ball and make something happen,” Marquis said. “Obviously, with the big guys coming up behind me, it’s their job to get it done. I’m up there just to try and make something happen.”[5]

“You’re watching all this happen and you’re asking what else is (Pujols) going to do, hit another one?” Mulder said. “And that’s exactly what he does.”

Rather than pitch around Pujols, Weathers went after the Cardinals slugger. He was ahead in the count 1-2 when Pujols turned on his fourth pitch of the at-bat, pulling the ball into the third deck, an estimated 441 feet away,[6] to win the game, 8-7.

“I tried to come inside on him,” Weathers said. “I left it over the plate too much. A guy like that you can’t do that, especially the way he was swinging today.”[7]

Just before he crossed home plate and was mobbed by his teammates, Pujols did a brief celebratory dance.

“Hey, you hit a walk-off homer, you get to do whatever you want,” Pujols said. “You need to be excited about it and you don’t get too many of those, so you need to enjoy them when they come.”[8]

Pujols’ three home runs totaled 1,238 feet.[9]

It was the second three-homer game and the sixth walk-off home run of Pujols’ career.[10] His five RBIs and four runs scored also matched career highs.[11] Twelve games into the young season, Pujols was off to arguably the best start of his career, batting .341 with a league-high eight homers and 17 RBIs.

“Hopefully, tomorrow I’ll get three more and forget about today,” Pujols said.[12]

Looper earned the win in relief for the Cardinals after allowing one run in 1 2/3 innings. In addition to Pujols’ big day, David Eckstein reached base three times and Yadier Molina and Skip Schumacher each reached base twice.

“It was one of those days where it seemed like whoever was going to hit last was going to win,” Narron said.[13]

Altogether, the Cardinals trailed three times before pulling out the win.

“For us to do that tells me all I need to know about the ’06 Cardinals,” La Russa said.[14]

The 2006 Cardinals indeed proved to be fighters, winning the National League Central with an 83-78 record before topping the Padres, Mets, and Tigers in the postseason for the franchise’s 10th world championship. Pujols finished the regular season with a .331 batting average and career-high 49 homers and 137 RBIs. He finished second to the Phillies’ Ryan Howard in the NL MVP race.


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[1] Joe Ostermeier, “Pujols propels Cards past Reds,” Belleville News-Democrat, April 17, 2006.

[2] Bernie Miklasz, “El Hombre makes mark on new Busch,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, April 17, 2006.

[3] John Fay, “Sunday just wasn’t Arroyo’s day,” Cincinnati Enquirer, April 17, 2006.

[4] Joe Strauss, “Albert Pujols’ third homer of the day buries the Reds,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, April 17, 2006.

[5] Rod Kloeckner, “Marquis sets table for Pujols’ heroics,” Belleville News-Democrat, April 17, 2006.

[6] Bernie Miklasz, “El Hombre makes mark on new Busch,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, April 17, 2006.

[7] John Fay, “Reds are star struck,” Cincinnati Enquirer, April 17, 2006.

[8] Rod Kloeckner, “Walk-off blast leaves Albert dancing,” Belleville News-Democrat, April 17, 2006.

[9] Joe Ostermeier, “Pujols propels Cards past Reds,” Belleville News-Democrat, April 17, 2006.

[10] Joe Strauss, “Albert Pujols’ third homer of the day buries the Reds,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, April 17, 2006.

[11] Joe Strauss, “Albert Pujols’ third homer of the day buries the Reds,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, April 17, 2006.

[12] Joe Strauss, “Albert Pujols’ third homer of the day buries the Reds,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, April 17, 2006.

[13] John Fay, “Reds are star struck,” Cincinnati Enquirer, April 17, 2006.

[14] Joe Strauss, “Albert Pujols’ third homer of the day buries the Reds,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, April 17, 2006.