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Baseball Notebook: The boring life and times of Albert Pujols

Sunday, August 17, 2003

By Steve Ziants, Post-Gazette Sports Writer

Don't bother to look out the window. Take The Guy In The Stands' word for it. It's a beautiful summer Sunday. The Pirates are at home ... and Albert Pujols is safely on the other side of the state in Philadelphia.

That is enough to make it a wonderful day in the neighborhood no matter what falls from the sky. Just so long as it isn't another Pujols moonshot raining on an unsuspecting head in the outfield stands at PNC Park.

That is also as close as we will get to any funny one-liners about -- or from -- this amazing young man who would win the triple crown. He just plays and hits, as his .443 average and 16 RBIs vs. the Pirates this year will attest. What the heck is he doing here in the year 2003?

There is little that is funny or juicy or sexy about him. Nothing Jeremy Shocking or brownie fudge nut sundae.

He obviously heeded Crash Davis' media pearls to Nuke LaLoosh.

After homering in his fourth consecutive game Wednesday -- and third in a row against the Pirates -- he told reporters:

"I'm just trying to hit something there to stay out of the double play. ... I put a good swing on it and it went out of the park."

About the possibility of becoming the first player since 1967 to win the triple crown (he is hitting .371 with 34 homers and 108 RBIs):

"I'm having a great year so far and I just want to keep going and try to get better and better."

About his hitting streak, which last night reached 30 games -- best in the majors this season:

"I have the ability, but it doesn't mean I can take it for granted. ... I have to work hard every day. I have to do my routine every day. ... It's 162 games if you want to help your team every day."

What would Jose Canseco have said?

The juxtaposition to the hard-driving, harder-hitting Narcissistic Canseco is not happenstance. It was Canseco who Pujols joined Aug. 7 as the only players to hit 30 homers and drive in 100 runs in their first three major-league seasons.

Yet while Pujols shares that distinction with Canseco, we can be fairly certain we'll not one day hear of him auctioning off Afternoons By The Pool With Al on eBay.

Because Pujols is boring. He is a Pirates tormentor and the only player worthy of preventing Barry Bonds from winning another MVP. And he is (yawn!) boring.

So why does The Guy pay attention? Isn't there some obscure pitcher in Dubuque more to The Guy's perverse taste in baseball who threw no-hitters with both arms last week? Or what about the rumor that Dodgers fans are circulating a petition to get Shawn Green on the gubernatorial ballot in California? (Anything to get him out of the lineup.)

Why does The Guy care? Because his numbers make him impossible to ignore. Large, stupid, absurd, crooked, ungodly, phat, ridiculous numbers. He is Bill Gates in spikes. That is why we pay attention. How strange is that these days?

He has a streak of seven consecutive months in which he has hit .300 or better.

He has been in the major leagues for 521 days. He has been over .300 for 395 of them (76 percent), including all but seven in 2001 and '03.

His 30-game hitting streak is the longest in the storied history of the Cardinals since Stan Musial hit in 30 in a row in 1950 and just three shy of the record set by Rogers Hornsby in 1922.

His is a streak not held together by the occasional bleeder or blooper. He has eight home runs and 26 RBIs since it began July 18, including a clutch eighth-inning home run to keep it going off Atlanta's Mr. Automatic -- John Smoltz -- to beat the Braves, 3-2, Sunday.

He wrote his name alongside Joe DiMaggio, Eddie Mathews and Ralph Kiner July 20 as the only players to hit 100 home runs in their first three big-league seasons.

He is only the second Cardinal to put up three consecutive 30-homer seasons. The other? Musial (1953-55).

And he is also only 23. Did The Guy forget to mention that? For comparison sake, when Hank Aaron was 23, he had a .313 career average with 110 home runs and 399 RBIs. Willie Mays? .305, 65, 201. Ted Williams? .356, 91, 378. Barry Bonds? .245, 41, 107. Babe Ruth? .299, 20, 116. And Pujols? Try .335, 105, 365. You get the idea.

Yet the most mind-boggling stat for someone so young might be this: 2. That represents the number of times in his career that he has gone three or more starts without a hit. Two! In 440 games! He had a three-game oh-fer July 4-6, 2001, and a five-gamer Sept. 23-28, 2001. That's it. The extent of his "slumps."

To put it in a context to which 50 million Americans and Canadians can relate, that's just one more blackout in three years than your power company had just this week. The only difference: his were so short your beer didn't have time to get warm.

Help from above

Maybe the stars -- and power grids -- are pulling for Albert Pujols. Closing in on a 30-game hitting streak and with a triple crown close enough to touch, Pujols was scheduled to have the appeal of a two-game suspension heard Friday in Philadelphia. A two-game suspension for a scuffle July 13 vs. the Padres that almost surely would have been upheld. But because of the blackout that brought the Northeast to a standstill Thursday, the hearing was postponed and Pujols was able to play this weekend and keep fanning his momentum. No new date was set. Meanwhile, Pujols had three more hits Friday and one last night.

All by himself

An observant reader pointed out that the unassisted triple play by Atlanta shortstop Rafael Furcal Sunday was not only just the 12th in major-league history, but the first in the National League not to occur in Pittsburgh in 78 years.

Most recently, Phillies second baseman Mickey Morandini turned one against the Pirates at Three Rivers Stadium Sept. 20, 1992. Cubs shortstop Jim Cooney also turned one against the Pirates at Forbes Field May 30, 1927. And Pirates shortstop Glenn Wright turned one at Forbes against the Cardinals May 7, 1925.

Until Furcal, the last National Leaguer to turn one outside Pittsburgh was Boston Braves shortstop Ernie Padgett against the Phillies Oct. 6, 1923.

Two tough

Despite what the record books show, Rafael Furcal's gem in St. Louis Sunday might not have been the most unique fielding feat of the week. The night before in Cleveland, Indians pitcher Jason Boyd turned an unassisted double play in the second game of a day-night doubleheader sweep of the Angels. With Anaheim's Adam Kennedy at third and one out, Alfredo Amezega attempted a suicide squeeze but popped out to Boyd, who then raced to third to double up Kennedy.

While it had been only three years since the previous unassisted triple play, it had been just a day short of 13 years since Detroit's Clay Parker turned the previous unassisted DP by a pitcher. It has been even longer in the National League, which hasn't seen one since Jim McAndrew of the Mets in 1968.

Whoops!

A funny thing happened on the way off the disabled list for Cardinals ace Matt Morris. Scheduled to come off today and pitch against the Phillies for the first time since his hand was broken July 22, Morris (8-6, 4.16 ERA) was running for an elevator at the team's hotel in Philadelphia Thursday and went down with a sprained left ankle. Morris said he jumped down several steps in dress shoes to try and reach the elevator before the doors closed . "[Jason Isringhausen] was holding the elevator and I was hustling up," Morris said. "My landing wasn't the best." Oh really. Now he faces at least two more weeks on the DL while his teammates try to figure out a way to remain in contention in the National League Central. Which raises the question: Has a pennant has ever been lost for the sake of a bad pair of loafers?

AL East hostilities

Before this summer is out, the United Nations might need to consider dropping peacekeeping troops into still another hot spot on the globe -- Connecticut. That lovely little state that buffers New York from Boston, the Yankees from the Red Sox, has become site of a 21st century fiber optic turf war between the two franchises. According to a report in the Boston Globe, all but two of the cable systems in the state carry Yankees games. Meanwhile, rare is the Red Sox game that can be found south of Hartford.

Earlier this summer, the Red Sox staged a rally in Hartford to create public pressure on cable operators to carry more Red Sox games. "We want to welcome all those Connecticut Yankees who don't want to be in King George's court," Red Sox partner Tom Werner said. Among those spotted in the crowd was U.S. Sen. Christopher Dodd. Taking note of this celebrity sighting, Lonn Trost, Yankees chief operating officer shot back: "God is a Yankee fan, so we don't need the senator."

Yeah, but then, God doesn't need cable.

This 'n' that

The collector's market is abuzz for the auction at the Inn at Chester Springs in Exton, Chester County, Friday-Saturday. Up for bidding will be Roy Campanella's entire personal collection, including his MVP awards from 1951, '53 and "55. The MVP awards alone should each fetch six figures. ... An update in the summer saga that is the Mysterious Elbow Ailment of Brandon Lyon: Dr. James Andrews examined Lyon Monday and found no concerns with an elbow that caused the Pirates to balk. Lyon, returned to Boston in the Jeff Suppan deal, was expected to begin a rehab stint with AAA Pawtucket this weekend. ... The son of former Pirates infielder Mike Benjamin is playing for the Chandler, Ariz., team in this week's Little League World Series. ... The Braves traded this week for pitcher Kent Mercker, who pitched for Atlanta from 1989-95 before being traded to Baltimore. "I guess they think with a 12-game lead, I can't screw it up." ... With the addition of top prospect Cliff Lee, the Indians will go with a six-man rotation the rest of the season. ... It was just like old times for Mike Williams in the Phillies' 4-3 win vs. the Brewers Thursday He registered his first save for Philadelphia, but only after walking two batters in the ninth. ... And finally, win or lose, Marlins rookie Dontrelle Willis is having fun. After getting beaten on for seven runs in two plus innings of a 9-3 loss to the Dodgers Monday, he told reporters: "This is not a marquee night for fantasy baseball."

Shot and a jeer

"It doesn't do you a darned bit of good to go into the Hall of Fame after you are dead." -- Pete Rose, ESPN's "Sunday Conversation", Aug. 3, 2003

Bizarre (some might say sick), but therein lies the perfect compromise to the Rose/Hall of Fame question. Major League Baseball should announce to the world immediately that its ban on Rose will be lifted, thereby making him eligible for election to Cooperstown ... the day after he dies. How perfect is that? Rose gets what he deserves (bronzed immortality); Major League Baseball gets what it wants (a pound of pain and suffering). A little masochistic. You bet (Pete will). But no more than watching another interview with Rose.

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