Albert Pujols wasn’t himself at the end of the St. Louis Cardinals’ last trip, going 1-for-9 with one RBI in a three-game series in Chicago. It was a short funk.

Albert Pujols wasn’t himself at the end of the St. Louis Cardinals’ last trip, going 1-for-9 with one RBI in a three-game series in Chicago. It was a short funk.
Videotape study detected the problem: last year’s NL MVP was too anxious, jumping at pitches. Before long, Pujols was back to making pitchers’ days miserable.
The Cardinals swept the New York Mets and took two of three from their NL Central rival Cubs in their just-completed homestand, handling two of the league’s best teams and much of it due to Pujols. He was 9-for-20 with three homers and 11 RBIs, a crucial steal that keyed a one-run victory over Chicago, and only one strikeout.
Pujols, the former Fort Osage High School star may look like the Natural with his ability to wait till the last possible instant before committing, but he works at it. No Cardinal spends more time watching video and two recent sessions helped him rediscover his stroke.
“I said, ’That’s not me,”’ Pujols said. “Then I looked back at last year when I felt great and I found something and I took it to the game. So far, it’s feeling good. I’m going to keep doing it until I need to make another adjustment.”
Not surprisingly, entering a seven-game trip Monday, Pujols was on top of all the major NL batting categories, tied for first in homers (7), first in RBIs (25) and runs (25) while batting .343 for the early Central Division leaders. Cubs pitchers walked him three times and hit him a fourth time on Sunday.
“He’s the best player I’ll probably ever play with, and I’m happy he’s on my side,” Cardinals second baseman Skip Schumaker said. “He just does so much damage, it’s incredible.”
Pujols’ grand slam on Saturday vaulted him over 1,000 RBIs at age 29.
“Double his career from here to the end and he’s in the Hall of Fame,” manager Tony La Russa said. “What a player! It’s a pleasure to watch him play; actually it’s a pleasure to watch him practice.
“It’s a pleasure to watch him in the clubhouse talking to his teammates.”
Pujols is one of only six Cardinals to drive in 1,000 runs, joining the likes of Hall of Famers Stan Musial, Enos Slaughter, Jim Bottomley and Rogers Hornsby, and he passed Ken Boyer (1,001) with his second grand slam of the year.
He can run when it’s called for, too, going 3-for-3 in three straight games last week. Against the Cubs on Friday, he singled in the eighth off Carlos Marmol, stole second off a great jump and scored the go-ahead run on Ryan Ludwick’s single.
It’s no coincidence that Pujols’ numbers also have picked up because of the guys surrounding him in the lineup, including Ludwick (.333, 5 homers, 19 RBIs), Chris Duncan (.310, 2 homers, 12 RBIs) and Rick Ankiel recently also rounding into form with a pair of three-hit games and two homers during the homestand. The Cardinals also have gotten nice offensive starts from Brian Barden and Joe Thurston in a third base job share for the injured Troy Glaus, along with a promising start from rookie Colby Rasmus.
“I’m glad Ludwick and Ankiel are hitting behind him because he’s starting to get some pitches to hit,” Schumaker said. “When he does, it’s unbelievable to watch him day in and day out.”
Pujols expects the Cardinals, who missed the postseason the last two seasons after winning the World Series in 2006, will be in it for the long haul. He believes the tone was set in spring training.
“Everything is done there, everything,” Pujols said. “We brought that into the season. We’re young, but we’ve got some talent.”