Gordon: It's time for Albert to start being Albert

2011-08-10T14:45:00Z 2011-08-12T22:10:19Z Gordon: It's time for Albert to start being AlbertBY JEFF GORDON
August 10, 2011 2:45 pm  • 

The Cardinals aggressively improved their supporting cast at the trade deadline. Around baseball, the moves were viewed as their bid to enjoy one last fling with Albert Pujols before free agency took their superstar away.

This team hopes to keep Pujols, or course, but it is trying to win now. General manager John Mozeliak admitted as much after subtracting unhappy outfielder Colby Rasmus and adding Edwin Jackson, Octavio Dotel, Marc Rzepczynski, Corey Patterson and Octavio Dotel.

But here’s the thing: A deeper bullpen, a better starting rotation and improved shortstop defense won’t help a team much if its stars don’t star in big-game scenarios.

The trade-deadline upgrades gave the Cards an opportunity to make a playoff run. But it’s up to the key players to seize that opportunity.

Management did its job. Now the players must do their job -– and Pujols failed miserably Tuesday night during the team’s 5-3, 10-inning loss.

* Albert flied out to center field after Patterson drew a one-out walk in the first inning.

* Albert was called out on strikes with Patterson at first base and two outs in the third inning. That pitch was low, admittedly, but Pujols did not have a stellar at-bat.

* Albert popped out after Patterson’s two-out RBI single put runners at the corners in the fifth inning.

* Albert came up with the winning run on second base and two outs in the bottom of the ninth. The game was there for the taking . . . and he flied out weakly to right field on the first pitch.

Pujols stranded six runners in all. If he had a good swing in this game, frustrated fans can’t recall it.

In this corner of cyberspace, we don’t spend a lot of time blaming individuals for team failures. A lot of stuff went wrong Tuesday night.

Jackson allowed a two-strike, two-out homer, showing why he hasn’t made the most of his considerable ability to this point of his career.

Back-up catcher Gerald Laird opened the door for the third Milwaukee run with a passed ball.

Skip Schumaker failed to use a back-door slide to score on the game’s pivotal play. He may have been safe anyway, despite the "out" call at the plate, but he needed to make that play indisputable.

Dotel failed to hold the Brewers in the 10th inning after closing out the ninth in relief of the injured Lance Lynn.

In the end, though, the game came down to Albert’s vexing inability to deliver the big hit.

This is a player who wants massive dollars in a free-agent deal. He isn't a one-man team, but wants to get paid like it.

He welcomed the challenge of putting up numbers in the walk year of his contract . . . and so far he hasn't quite met that challenge.

Pujols took an 0-for-5 collar in the team’s biggest game of the year. He is hitting .279, nearly 50 points below his career average.

He is hitting .274 this season with men on base and two outs. He is hitting .286 with a runner at third base and less than two outs. He is hitting .250 with the bases loaded.

Pujols has been very good overall, but he hasn’t been his usual superhuman self. And in the biggest games, he hasn’t measured up to Milwaukee’s best players. 

With Matt Holliday, Lance Berkman and David Freese stacked up behind him, teams have to pitch to him. Pujols has drawn just six intentional walks this season, compared to 34, 44 and 38 the previous three seasons.

Pujols is getting every opportunity to be a hero. He is getting every chance to make the most of his team’s “win now” approach.

The next two games would be a really, really good time to start converting the opportunity.

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