Saturday, September 6, 2008

Pujols earns grudging respect of Cardinals hater

My wife and I were approaching Busch Stadium, walking east on Spruce Street this evening, when Albert Pujols muscled a two-run homer.

Yawn. Not sorry I missed that one. Not so much because I'm a Mets fan - which is to say, a Cardinals hater - but because I'm indifferent to the long ball.

I'm not immune to the majic of the walk-off homerun, the dramatic game winner, but in most situations a dinger is the least interesting of all plays. And that's because it's the least complex of all plays. Once the ball leaves the bat, the play is over. It's just a matter of one or more guys clearing the bases while the pitcher looks aggravated, pained, or defiant.

Infield defense - that's where the action is, for me, as a former third baseman. And, in fact, Pujols ended today's game with a sharp piece of infield defense, snapping up a one-hop throw from Cesar Izturis for the final out. Even a Cardinals hater knows that Pujols makes that pick in his sleep.

The superstar slugger and Gold Glover had amazed me, earlier in the game, by winning me over with sharp, gutsy play in another facet of the game that delights me, one where Pujols is not usually expected to excel: base-running.

He led off the sixth inning by drawing a walk. Ryan Ludwick then hit a long can of corn to right field. With nobody out and the game tied at three, most people giving it any thought - including Marlins right fielder Luis Gonzales, who didn't seem to be giving it much thought - would have expected the bulky, slow Pujols to loiter near the bag, then stay put at first once the putout was made.

But he tagged! He went for second! He beat the throw!

That was thrilling baseball - so much more exciting, to me, than seeing a muscleman swat at the ball, then strut uncontested around the bases as the ball bounces around the bleacher seats.

It was all the more gratifying when Cardinals catcher Yadier Molina stepped up to the plate (it's good to use that overused metaphor, from time to time, in its literal sense, just to recharge its severely dimmed batteries) and stroked a single, sending Pujols home with the go-ahead and, indeed, decisive run.

The Cardinals beat the Marlines, 5-3, but had they stopped there at 4 runs, they still would have won - and all because of Pujols' heads-up and gutsy base-running. Had Pujols not stretched out on Ludwick's long fly, gone for second, and beat the throw, then Molina's single would have advanced Pujols no further than to second base.

Still a Mets fan, here, still a Cardinals hater, still bored by the longball, still feel like "Cardinals Nation" lost much of its soul, years ago, by falling in love with a St. Louis-hating, red-headed, souped up homerun machine. But, after today, I'll have much more respect for Albert Pujols.


Picture is of my little bitty skinny kid with a Cardinals hat. the presence of my favorite person excuses, somewhat, the regalia from my most detested National League ballclub, which is loathed only slightly less by us Mets heads than the Yankees are.


Mets Guy in Michigan said...

Cool post!

I like St. Louis -- went to the University of Missouri -- and have a appreciation for Cardinals fans. But it was tough attending Mizzou when the Mets/Cards rivalry was at its peak. Oh, the abuse I got in 1984 and 1985 -- and dished it out again in 1986!!!!

Neat blog! I'll be back to read more.

Confluence City said...

Thanks, man, I feel the same and have added your site to my blogroll.