Albert Pujols Finds Happiness with Dodgers

LOS ANGELES – It was a full house, big moment and baseball was rising into the sky in a straight line towards October.

Albert Pujols watched in a uniform he never expected to wear from a place he never imagined it would be. It was the two-run blast from teammate Corey Seager that ignited the roar that closed last week’s Los Angeles evening. And in the Dodgers bunker were Pujols leading the cheers.

Once upon a time, when he was known as The Machine, Pujols commanded his own stretch running spot. While those big moments now mostly belong to others, Pujols often focus on his one-night plate look, versus a strategically placed, left-handed player – that could change in Wednesday’s National League wild card match, with Max Muncy injured. At Dodger Stadium, St. Louis Dodgers.

The Dodgers signed Pujols four days later in May. indefinite release By the Los Angeles Angels and in the final season of a 10-year, $240 million contract. He thrived beyond expectations in his very special role, scorching lefties for a .306 batting average and finishing the season with 12 homers and 38 RBIs for the Dodgers.

His teammates brag about his joie de vivre. And now once St. A man who dominated October for Louis is back in the postseason for the first time since 2014, and his first test will be against his beloved Cardinals. His frustrating ending with the angels is erased from the narrative.

“What happened with the Angels, so happened with the Angels,” said longtime Dodgers star Clayton Kershaw. “But as soon as he got here, he embraced the role that was so big for us. I think we needed that. We needed that old veteran. He calls himself Tio, we call him Tio, a smiling guy in the bunker who helps hit everybody but is also happy for you when you do well. the uncle type who is a man.

Watch him during a game – his smile, his laugh, his cheers, the occasional last-hit laser – and he seems to have found the perfect spot for himself.

Nearing the end of his career that saw him collect 3,301 hits, 679 home runs, and two World Series rings, the 41-year-old Pujols sat in the Dodgers bunker about 16 hours after Seager’s explosion and contemplated his unexpected return to October baseball.

“Hey, listen, these guys were going to have a great year whether I was here or not,” Pujols said of his Dodgers teammates. “They’re just a really good, talented ball club with great management, great coaching staff, great preparation and great batting coaches.

“I am very happy to have this opportunity.”

In its first 11 seasons – all in St. With Louis – The Pujols have made the playoffs seven times and have gone to the World Series in three of those years. It has only been back once since 2011. He spent most of those October at his home in Orange County, California, with his wife, Deidre, and their five school-age children. He said he rarely watches television and that includes the playoffs and the World Series if he doesn’t participate in it.

“I might catch a hit or two here or there but I feel like the off-season is a time to refresh and train your mind for what you want to accomplish for next year,” he said. “Honestly, I watch Caribbean baseball more than the World Series – winter league, stuff like that.”

He said that he spent the last October months with his children in the pool, cycling and going to the beach. The kids lobby for trips to their favorite restaurants, and Deidre cooks a lot at home.

This week, however, Pujols will trade all that for a drop in front of packed stadiums.

“You can say that you appreciate being on this team; He really enjoys everyone’s success as a super old statesman,” said another Dodgers ace, Max Scherzer, with a chuckle.

To put Pujols’ age – 41 – in context, four of this year’s 10 postseason managers have played against him on the field as players the previous October: Dodgers’ Dave Roberts and San Francisco’s Gabe Kapler were teammates on the Boston Red Sox. He swept the Pujols and Cardinals in the 2004 World Series. Boston native Alex Cora moved to Los Angeles and St. He was with the Dodgers during a split series between St. Craig Counsell of Milwaukee faced the Pujols’ teams twice in the 2001 Divisional Series when Counsell was with Arizona and in the 2011 National League Championship Series with the Brewers.

Two other notables post-season also have extensive October experience with the Pujols: now with the Chicago White Sox and Tony La Russa, the player’s St. He managed the Pujols for 11 seasons with Louis. And Atlanta third base coach Ron Washington was running Texas in one of the Pujols’ pivotal career moments: three homer game 3 It’s in the 2011 World Series that helped Louis win an exciting seven-game championship.

“Anyone surprised? No,” said Washington. “He was Albert Pujols. Back then, you hit Albert Pujols badly, you got hurt.”

The Dodgers signed Pujols when Seager was taken off the field with a broken hand and outfielder Cody Bellinger with a capillary leg fracture. Knowing that he would eventually be demoted from the bench to a veteran bat, they imagined him starting a bit against the lefties on the first inning. NS Acquisition of Trea Turner and Scherzer The return to health of Seager and the others, as well as his arrival from Washington on the trade deadline in July, really shortened his playing time – but it didn’t make him any less valuable.

Bench coach of the San Diego Padres and Pujols’ St. “He sees a lot of things people don’t see,” said Skip Schumaker, a teammate at St. Louis. Schumaker described Pujols as the smartest player he knew. .

“You wouldn’t believe you were playing alongside me, he helped me out, told me what to look for and meanwhile gave me confidence that I could play on the championship team alongside him,” said Schumaker. “It goes this far.”

Dodgers rookie Gavin Lux noticed Pujols’ attention to detail, even in the batting cage “every little thing counts, he seems to have it all figured out and I still see him talking to the coaches”.

During their eight consecutive NL West titles, the Dodgers built a highly successful mentoring program that brought Chase Utley and David Freese to the end of their careers before the Pujols.

“These three are very different guys,” Kershaw said. “They’re guys I respect more than most of the people I’ve played with. Freeser was a born leader and the guys followed him. Chase did the same, but in a quieter way. People wanted to see what he would do before he did anything.

Albert is a little more charismatic, a little more cheerful. He is happy, smiling, enjoying his time. It’s like, in a way, he rejuvenated him, got on a really good team, went back to playoff baseball.”

Pujols said he remembers his own mentors vividly when he majored as a rookie in 2001. Mark McGwire, Jim Edmonds, “and my Latin guys – Placido Polanco, Edgar Renteria, Fernando Vina.” Then various others that the Cardinals bartered: Hall of Famer Larry Walker. Reggie Sanders. Woody Williams.

“I think it would be really selfish if I couldn’t pass on the wisdom they gave me to these young players,” Pujols said. “This is something I embrace and enjoy. It gave me a new impetus in my life. I tell them this.

“I’ve been having so much fun in the last four months here that I haven’t had it in a while.”

He went through and witnessed so many transitions in the play that when the time came he could easily take on a new uniform and a new role, which would surprise some.

“Listen, this isn’t rocket science,” Pujols said. “You’ve seen guys with these kinds of roles towards the end of their careers. I know I’m not the player I once was. I think everybody knows this. But I still think I can contribute. That’s why I still wear this uniform. Whenever I have the opportunity, whether on the field or in the bunker, I will do my best to help this organization.”

For Dodgers, these contributions are vital. On a Sunday afternoon in August, as the Dodgers faced off against the Angels, Roberts hurriedly called on Pujols to take a pinch shot for Justin Turner in the second round after Turner strained his groin. Pujols countered with a two-hit homer and played first base the rest of the way. It remains one of Roberts’ favorite moments this season.

“He has no rights,” Roberts said. “And if anyone can feel entitled, it’s the Hall of Famer on the first ballot. But it’s just one of those guys.”

Even if he’s not the player he once was, Pujols still brings a certain scare factor to the game that’s hard to replicate.

“If you hit left, you know you’re going to come out of that bunker,” Braves Manager Brian Snitker said of the anticipated final matchups. “You are absolutely certain of where you are.”

How old is Pujols, who is 41 years old? Scherzer is a high school Pujols fan before graduating in 2003. from Louis. He was drafted from the University of Missouri in 2006 when the Cardinals beat Detroit in the World Series. While both men are expected to one day be inducted into the Hall of Fame, Scherzer, 37, turns heads about sharing a clubhouse with his once-hero Pujols.

“It’s not normal,” Scherzer said. “It’s not normal for me to play with Albert Pujols.”

Indeed, the Dodgers last month in St. Louis, Scherzer took some time to make Pujols cry to take pictures.

“I don’t care what you say,” Scherzer told Pujols. “I need to take a picture with you in front of Arch.”

Now, as the Pujols step into the postseason for the first time in seven years, there’s every chance to make it more than just another photo shoot. Next up is a chapter against the Cardinals versus who else.

“Madness,” said Pujols. “You can’t even write this.”

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