ARLINGTON, Texas • The Texas Rangers could only wish for Albert Pujols to not show up Saturday night.
Two days after his absence generated debate, the Cardinals first baseman and man of influence silenced a Rangers Park crowd of 51,462 and stunned the American League champions with three home runs and six RBIs in an unfathomable four-inning span. Pujols’ breakout blew open a game that already had gorged itself on offense and that put the Cardinals in control of the World Series with a 16-7 victory for a two-games-to-one lead.
Quite simply, no player has accomplished in one Series game what Pujols did Saturday night.
A player constantly defined by superlatives torched the Rangers bullpen for 13 of his World Series record 14 total bases and all six of his record-tying six RBIs. He became the second player in Series history to compile five hits in a game.
In one night he shook not only Game 3 but also more than 100 years of World Series history.
With drives off three different relievers, Pujols became the third player in Series history to hit three home runs in a game, landing alongside Babe Ruth (1926, ’28) and Reggie Jackson (’77).
Asked immediately afterward if this ranked as his greatest game, Pujols said, "I’ll let you know after we win (the Series), hopefully."
He crashed home runs in the sixth, seventh and ninth innings. He hit a high fastball, an inside fastball and a cut fastball for his homers. He probably could have hit a sinking bowling ball. He reached the façade of the club level in left field and twice punished pitches into the lower bowl. He drove in six of his team’s final eight runs and scored four runs. In one night he tied or beat records for home runs, total bases, RBIs and hits.
"It’s Albert," Cardinals pitcher Chris Carpenter said. "When there’s big pressure, big game, big moment, he’s at his best."
No player in the game’s history has never been better in a World Series setting than Pujols was Saturday night. Known as the "Invisible Man’’ on the bases, he became the "Irresistible Man’’ at the plate.
"He’s been great for a long time but this has to be the greatest," Cards manager Tony La Russa said. "Has someone had a better day — ever— in the World Series?
Well, no."Show me one’s that better. I think it would be hard to do."
The performance occurred two days after the Rangers used a ninth-inning rally to steal Game 2 and barely 24 hours after Pujols attempted to defuse a dust-up stemming from his clubhouse absence after the game to discuss his failure to cut off a ball in a game-turning play. The message Saturday focused on what occurred around him.
"It shows you the kind of club we have," he said. "Everybody was concentrating on the tough loss we had in St. Louis a couple days ago and how we bounce back.
"We’ve been through so much this year. We look at it like another game we should have won. It didn’t happen. But we flipped the page and came ready to play."
Pujols entered Saturday hitless in six Series at-bats. He broke the funk with a fourth-inning single against Rangers starter Matt Harrison and followed with another an inning later. His first two hits served as catalysts to four- and three-run rallies that gave the Cardinals leads of 5-0 and 8-3.
"His swing looked good in batting practice. I said, ‘Albert, you’ve just got to get pitches to hit. Be patient. And that’s all that hitting is," hitting coach Mark McGwire said. "He’s so good, you make the smallest mistake and he’ll take advantage of it. But it’s just about getting pitches to hit."
He hit home runs off Alexi Ogando, Mike Gonzalez and former Cardinal Darren Oliver. He homered against a righthander and two lefts. He drove pitches when he was to be pitched carefully and others when the game was out of hand.
"I don’t know what combination I could have used to stop ‘em. We couldn’t stop’ em," conceded Rangers manager Ron Washington. "I just hope that we can make him chase some stuff, not put stuff in the wrong spot. Tonight we couldn’t the ball out of the middle of the plate and up. He didn’t miss."
Two teams that produced eight runs total in the series’ first two games matched the total in Saturday’s first four innings. A series that came within one out of producing four quality starts by its first two games’ starters evicted the Cardinals’ Kyle Lohse and the Rangers’ Harrison after a cumulative 6 2⁄3 innings.
Harrison suffered a meltdown during a four-run fourth inning extended by an umpire’s missed call. Lohse failed to get an out after being given a 5-0 lead.
The two teams conspired on the most prolific consecutive innings since 1929 when they amassed 13 runs in the fourth and fifth innings somehow without a Pujols RBI.
"There were a couple times in the dugout during the middle of the game we said let’s have a game like we’ll never forget," La Russa said. "That’s kind of what he did.’’
Pujols appeared reflective in Saturday’s postgame setting. He tried to deflect attention toward right fielder Allen Craig, who opened the scoring with a first-inning home run, and catcher Yadier Molina, who contributed four RBI and three hits.
He admitted being embarrassed about the attention that followed him after his Game 2 no-show. He challenged reporters during an impromptu on-field news conference Friday, saying he had not received their request until 40 minutes after the 2-1 loss and regretted how it overshadowed lefthander Jaime Garcia’s compelling seven-inning start.
"What can I say?" Pujols replied. "To tell you the truth, I just come and get ready to play. I’ve been in that situation before where people just blow things out. It is what it is. You can’t really think about that. My main concern is we are in the World Series."
The Rangers plated six runs before the sixth inning yet could do no better than put the tying run on base after the third. After committing only four errors in the first two rounds of the postseason, they were guilty of three Saturday.
The Cardinals now benefit from powerful history. Ten of the last 11 teams to win Game 3 of a tied World Series have gone on to win the title. The road team is 21-7 in the last 28 Series when it has broken the tie.
Molina reached base four times and contributed four RBIs and third baseman David Freese added three while running his postseason hitting streak to 13 games with a fourth-inning double and eighth-inning single.
Every Cards starter except center fielder Jon Jay produced a hit and scored a run. The Cardinals scored in five consecutive innings against four Texas relievers.
Rangers Park offers little of the objectivity found in Busch Stadium. This place’s claustrophobic confines allow righthanded hitters to drive opposite-field fly balls for home runs with regularity. Designated hitter Michael Young and right fielder Nelson Cruz took advantage with fourth-inning blasts that chased Lohse before his 10th out.
This place transforms Cy Young pitchers into mortals and mortals into mush. Combine two of the game’s four most prolific offenses and the outcome can become messy.
Two games in Busch Stadium offered 23 hits. Saturday led to 28. Each team retired the side in order only once. The offensive orgy grew so absurd that Rangers third baseman Adrian Beltre’s four hits represented nothing more than a footnote.
The Cardinals scored their most runs in their World Series history, an expanse of 108 games. Still, they had to sweat a combustible fifth inning. Not until Pujols flexed did the game became fully distorted.
Lohse was denied his first postseason victory when he failed to secure an out in the bottom of the inning.
Leading 5-3 entering the fifth, the Cardinals answered the Rangers’ rally with three more runs.
On a night when no lead appeared safe, the Rangers responded with a second consecutive three-run rally, this one against a well-worn Fernando Salas.
Trying to work a second inning in his 10th postseason appearance, Salas failed to get an out in the fifth inning as three consecutive hits resulted in one run, on Young’s double, and two inherited runners scoring against rookie Lance Lynn.
The raid on both teams’ bullpen continued in the sixth inning when the Cardinals crushed Ogando for four runs, three on Pujols’ one swing.
Having singled to start the three-run fifth, Pujols smoked a drive off the facing of Rangers Park’s club level to score Ryan Theriot and Rafael Furcal for an 11-6 lead. The inning refused to wilt as consecutive singles and a walk loaded the bases and forced Ogando’s ouster. Molina produced his third RBI and the game’s biggest lead with a sacrifice fly Gonzalez.
Pujols blasted traveled an estimated 423 feet and marked his 16th career postseason home run, moving him into seventh place all-time.
Lynn, inactive for two months before being added to the NLCS roster, became the night’s pitching hero by working a scoreless sixth inning that put him in a line for the win, which he got based on scorers’ judgment.
1926 // Yankees vs. Cardinals // Game 4 at Sportsman's Park
1928 // Yankees vs. Cardinals // Game 4 at Sportsman's Park
See a short video overview of the 1928 World Series at mlb.com.
1977 // Yankees vs. Dodgers // Game 6 at Yankee Stadium
2011 // Cardinals vs. Rangers // Game 3 at Rangers Ballpark in Arlington
Video footage of Pujols' three home runs:
Video of Pujols' press conference after the game: