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Bernie's earlier column: Cards get a nasty scare

Bernie's earlier column: Cards get a nasty scare

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Noon Monday update:

Pujols has broken bone in arm; out 4-6 weeks

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This is Bernie Miklasz's column about Albert Pujols that was published Sunday night:

Have you ever seen 41,660 frightened people hold their breath at the same time? Well, it happened Sunday afternoon at Busch Stadium. There was a collision at first base. Albert Pujols tumbled like a bowling pin. He stayed on the ground clutching his left wrist, writhing in agony.

Down goes Pujols.

Down goes the franchise player.

And there goes the 2011 season.

"I was nauseous," Cardinals GM John Mozeliak said.

Just about everyone in the place imagined the worst-case scenario: broken wrist, broken dreams.

Father's Day?

No, more like Halloween.

"It scared the hell out of us," manager Tony La Russa said.

Yes, the Cardinals may lose Pujols to free agency after the season. But they didn't want to lose him like this. They didn't want the last Pujols at-bat in a Cardinals uniform to occur June 19, not when there is a division race on the line. Hey, if this was the final at-bat, at least it was a Pujols home run, in the fifth inning.

But now it was the top of the sixth, and no one was thinking about the homer, about his contract, or what to throw on the backyard grill when they got home from the ballpark. No one could think, period.

And as Pujols went through his tortured contortions in foul ground near the first-base line, the red sea at Busch Stadium turned eerily still.

"The whole stadium was silent," Cardinals shortstop Ryan Theriot said. "This is one of the greatest players of all time."

The roar would return later when Skip Schumaker drilled a ninth-inning homer to give the Cardinals a 5-4 victory and a series win. But in this instance Schumaker's walk-off was overshadowed by an even more dramatic limp-off by Pujols.

Pujols couldn't dodge Kansas City baserunner Wilson Betemit while trying to reach an errant throw by rookie second baseman Pete Kozma.

But as it turns out, the Cardinals and Pujols probably dodged a metaphorical bullet that would have blown a hole through their season.

Pujols is pretty banged up; the wrist and shoulder are sore. But early reports are encouraging. There does not seem to be a break, a fracture. Yes, we've heard this before. The Cardinals specialize in offering premature, optimistic injury reports.

This situation is a little different, however. There doesn't seem to be much if any gray area. Either the wrist is broken or it is not. If it's broken, Pujols would be done for the year. If the wrist isn't broken, then the injury is a matter of severity.

If there's significant ligament damage in the wrist, the condition could sideline Pujols for a while. At least he would be back after a reasonable time. And there's a chance the Cardinals and Pujols could get really lucky and he'll avoid the disabled list.

We'll see. But late Sunday afternoon there wasn't a single person in this organization, in or around the Cardinals clubhouse, who thought Pujols has a broken wrist. The postgame mood was upbeat, and not just because of the win.

Another tip-off was this: Pujols was pleasant and patient in postgame interviews. If this was a catastrophic injury, chances are the organization immediately would have closed ranks and gone into the secretive, protective mode. Pujols wouldn't have appeared before his locker. But he did. That says a lot.

Mozeliak, no longer feeling sick, seemed calm and relieved an hour after the game. Isn't it about time for some reasonably good news on the medical front?

The Cardinals have been debilitated by injuries since spring training, when they lost ace starter Adam Wainwright to season-ending elbow surgery.

Ailing Cardinals who have spent time on the disabled list include cleanup hitter Matt Holliday, starting third baseman David Freese, starting pitcher Kyle McClellan, starting second baseman Schumaker, valuable bat Allen Craig (twice), effective utility man Nick Punto and solid backup catcher Gerald Laird.

And yet the Cardinals (40-33) are tied with Milwaukee for first place in the NL Central. This much we know about the team's health: The players' hearts are stout, and in fine condition.

As Mozeliak said, "When Albert went down, it was like, 'What else could possibly go wrong?' The character of this club should never be questioned. There's really only so many shots a team can take and keep bouncing back. But this is a resilient group."

Pujols has reemerged as a force over the last three weeks, batting .343 with nine homers, six doubles, 17 RBIs, 21 runs and a combined on-base and slugging percentage of 1.253 since May 30.

Pujols has never played fewer than 148 games in a season since arriving in the majors and St. Louis in 2001. It's strange to think of him not being out there. But if the Cardinals are fortunate to lose Pujols for a few days, a week, or a 15-day stint on the DL, they should be able to handle it.

"We've been overcoming things like this all year," Schumaker said. "This has been a common theme to our season."

And there was instant reassurance when Lance Berkman replaced the injured Pujols in the sixth.

"The All-Star first baseman went out of the game, and another All-Star first baseman came in," Theriot said. "And a lot of people don't have that luxury. You've got to hope it's for the best, hope that it's a quick deal with Albert.

"But we have some capable players, even though no one can fill Albert's shoes. No one can do that. But we have some guys who can step up and play well. Hopefully it's all going to pay off in the end. If we're fortunate enough to make it to the playoffs, we'll be a stronger team. It will make us a stronger unit."

Pujols said he regretted not being able to playfully smack Schumaker around at home plate after the game-winning homer. After talking about his injury for a few minutes, Pujols politely suggested that we turn our attention to the game and the happy outcome.

"This was a big win," Pujols said.

Even better, it seems, because they seemingly avoided a substantial loss: Albert Pujols.

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