Pujols saves no fireworks for All-Star Game

Wednesday, July 15, 2009
Albert Pujols runs to first as he grounds out to third during the first inning Tuesday in St. Louis. (JEFF ROBERSON ~ Associated Press)

ST. LOUIS -- Albert Pujols likes to remind people that, despite his spectacular talents, he is human.

The last two days proved it.

The All-Star Game carried great expectations for the St. Louis Cardinals' star, who entered the break with numbers that make him a Triple Crown threat. He received a prolonged standing ovation during player introductions, topped off by chants of "MVP! MVP!" from the hometown fans.

But he set off no fireworks while playing six innings Tuesday night, failing to hit a ball out of the infield in three at-bats and committing a fielding error that led to an unearned run in the American League's 4-3 victory over the National League.

"That's an error you don't want to make early in the game like that," Pujols said. "It cost us two runs. But hey, it's part of the game. You learn from the experience."

A lackluster All-Star Game for Pujols came on the heels of a so-so Home Run Derby for the major leagues' home run leader. He was eliminated in the second round Monday night.

Pujols redeemed himself defensively later in the game with a handful of nice plays, one of them saving a run. His best moment probably came before the game, when he made a deft scoop that perhaps saved President Barack Obama from bouncing his ceremonial first pitch.

"It was in the air the whole way," Pujols said. "I scooted up a little bit, but I think I was going to catch it in the air the whole way.

"I was more nervous not to drop the ball, believe me. I wasn't worried about him bouncing the ball."

Pujols has carried the St. Louis offense all season, leading the majors with 32 home runs and 87 RBIs, with little protection in the lineup. He has drawn 32 intentional walks, twice as many as any other player, some of them in not very threatening situations.

Perhaps he relaxed in the All-Star lineup, batting third as usual, but surrounded by players who earned a mid-summer trip to his home ballpark. Or perhaps he just needed a break after helping the Cardinals take a 2 1/2-game lead in the NL Central.

"I don't think it's all the extra All-Star stuff," Cardinals manager Tony La Russa said, discussing Pujols' Home Run Derby performance. "I think it's the fact he was pushed like our club."

After it was all done, Pujols was smiling.

"I enjoyed every moment of this All-Star Game," Pujols said. "Yes, I did have to do a lot of press conferences, a lot of media, Home Run Derby.

"But today I did whatever I had to do and I got myself ready for the game."

Pujols had a long day Sunday, the last day before the break, playing both ends of a day-night doubleheader in Chicago before traveling back to St. Louis. He was back at a downtown hotel the next morning for interviews, playing the role of ambassador and fielding questions that included whether he thought he could hit 60 homers and whether he was powerful enough to launch a ball from Busch Stadium to the Gateway Arch.

To the first, Pujols said he'll think about it in September. To the second, the Arch looms beyond center field and serves as a decorative backdrop for 4-year-old Busch Stadium, but is nearly a half-mile way.

"No," he said.

Pujols won a Gold Glove in 2006 with an aggressive style, often ranging far to his right to cut off balls. He was pretty much in no-man's land again when he booted Mark Teixeira's grounder in the first and the ball got away, allowing Ichiro Suzuki to score from second.

Pujols said he was screened by Joe Mauer, who was running from first, on the play.

"I just kind of got lost a little bit," Pujols said. "It kind of handcuffed me because it went through Mauer's legs almost. I kind of lost that vision."

Pujols has yet to play on the winning team in eight All-Star Games, one of them a tie. He minimized the American League again holding homefield advantage in the World Series, noting the Cardinals won in 2006 without it after taking one of the first two games in Detroit.

"Obviously it hasn't happened over the last I don't know how many years, but I would say that when you're in the World Series, it doesn't matter," Pujols said.

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