ST. LOUIS — Still in his office hours after a frustrating Saturday shutout and grinding over stat sheets and various lineup combinations that might shake his team’s offense out of its worst drought of the season, Cardinals manager Oliver Marmol was hit with a flash of an idea for Sunday.
How about Albert Pujols, a steady-headed veteran who has basically seen and done it all over the course of a 22-year MLB career that will someday lead to Cooperstown, N.Y.? Sure, all the analytics strongly indicate Pujols shouldn’t start against a right-handed pitcher, and halfway through his first season, Marmol had done a great job of not getting drunk on nostalgia and playing 42-year-old Pujols in unfavorable instances.
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But this dire circumstance — one where St. Louis had been held scoreless in four of its past seven games and three straight against the Phillies dating back to its last series — was different. Who better, Marmol asked himself in his office late Saturday night, to send a charge into a lineup Sunday than one of the most accomplished right-handed hitters the game has ever seen?
“I was sitting up late [Saturday] night thinking, ‘Some stability from somebody who’s been there before, who understands what it looks like, could play in that lineup,’” said Marmol after Pujols hit the 684th home run of his career and sparked the Cardinals to a 4-3 win over the Phillies. “I’m glad he was able to come through the way he did.”
Pujols rewarded the faith Marmol put in him by recording the 112th game of his career with three or more hits and one or more home runs. After the Phillies built what felt like could have been an insurmountable 3-1 lead with the way St. Louis had been struggling, Pujols brought Busch Stadium back to life with a 105 mph rocket that traveled a Statcast-projected 409 feet and hung in the air for 4.8 seconds for his 450th home run as a Cardinal.
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“Sometimes you look at the numbers and you don’t get a return, but I’ve been putting good swings on it. And sometimes they go out and sometimes they don’t,” Pujols said of his fifth home run of the season, which drew him to within 12 of Alex Rodriguez for fourth all-time. “I think I hit this one better than I did on Friday [with a near home run]. Today was my day, and it went out of the ballpark.”
In addition to the spark the home run provided St. Louis, it was also drenched in historical significance. The blast proved to be the 1,377th extra-base hit of Pujols’ career, tying him with Stan Musial for third in MLB history. Doing that meant even more to Pujols when considering the friendship that he built with Musial (who passed away in January 2013) during his first stint with the Cardinals from 2001-11.
“Stan means a lot, not only for me and this organization but to this city and country because of the way he served the country and left behind a legacy that will never die,” said Pujols, who mentioned recently that Musial would call his bat “a toothpick” compared the one he used while starring for the Cards from 1941-63. “We miss him, and I wish I had spent more time with him.”
With the score tied at 3, Pujols started what proved to be the game-winning rally by lacing a 110.1 mph single off Seranthony Domínguez in the bottom of the eighth. Pujols, who had three of his team’s eight hits, got a roaring ovation after being lifted for pinch-runner Dylan Carlson. Tommy Edman would bring Carlson home on a sacrifice fly on which Carlson slid to the outside of the plate, avoided the tag of Philadelphia catcher J.T. Realmuto and was called safe after a replay review.
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“I figured the ball was going to beat me or be close, so I had to get to the outside to beat the tag," Carlson said. "Luckily, we have replay and they got the call right.”
Marmol got the call right on giving Pujols a rare start against a right-handed pitcher, and the slugger was a central figure in St. Louis winning for just a second time in the past eight games. Pujols said he appreciates the trust his manager has in him.
“Oli was one of the ones who pushed to get me here, along with Yadi [Molina] and [Adam Wainwright], and we have such a good relationship,” Pujols said. “It means a lot that [Marmol] has my back. There are going to be good times like today and some bad times. It means a lot that [Marmol] believes in me, and I know the guys in here believe in me, too.
“I don’t expect to play every day, but when I’m in there, I’ll give it everything I’ve got,” he added. “I don’t take this game for granted; I’d never do that. I work my butt off to be ready when my name is called, and that’s something I can always take pride in.”