By Tyler Melvin
April 19, 2022
MIAMI – Albert Pujols lumbered around third base in the top half of the third inning in an effort to not only beat the relay from right field, but to stay in front of the fleet-footed Tommy Edman who knocked the ball into the gap for a triple. A good throw probably would have beat Pujols to the plate, and for a moment you could see that realization reflected across his grimacing face as the cutoff man turned to gun him down. However, the throw sailed up the line and Albert touched home safely in front of the small Miami crowd dominated by cheering Cardinal fans.
While “The Machine” can’t run the way he used to (of course, he was never considered a speed demon), Pujols is bringing some of the same passion and intensity that he first provided in 2001 as the Cardinals Rookie sensation. His performance on Tuesday night in Miami, a game in which he doubled, singled and scored twice, was just the latest example.
Number five’s successes are producing infectious energy in the dugout as well. After his mad dash, Albert was greeted by a cheesing Yadier Molina, a grinning Paul Goldschmidt, and the boisterous antics of Harrison Bader in the background among others. Watching the 22-year veteran leg it out from first to home at a 13.01 second clip was nothing short of motivational for players and fans alike; even more so when you consider that it was the fastest he’d ran in such scenarios since July of 2018.
Between innings, television broadcasts have shown some of the younger players such as Lars Nootbaar and Dylan Carlson discussing hitting with the slugger. His new Cardinal teammates – many of them childhood fans – are relishing the opportunity to play alongside and learn from the future Hall of Famer.
Even so, the young guys aren’t the only ones with reverence for the legendary Pujols. Speaking with Ken Rosenthal of The Athletic, first baseman Paul Goldschmidt summed up what it’s like having Albert in the clubhouse.
“Just having his presence around has made us better. He’s one of the greatest hitters of all time and we’re all learning from him. He’s a guy my whole career I’ve tried to imitate on and off the field. I really can’t say enough good things about him. I love him.”
Coming from the usually soft-spoken, 10-year veteran who’s carved out quite the career for himself, Goldschmidt’s admiration carries a lot of weight to say the least.
The Cardinals are thriving in the nostalgic atmosphere that “El Hombre’s” return has generated. For fans, the first couple weeks of the season have felt a lot like the old days. Although Pujols is almost exclusively in the lineup against left-handed pitching, it still seems as if he could take a pitch out of the ballpark in any given situation.
The previous Sunday’s matinee in Milwaukee featured a towering, three-run shot into the second deck that was reminiscent of the early 2000’s MVP who could turn a game on its head with one swing. Pujols took his time to admire the moonblast and toss his bat in triumph as he tied the contest after the Cardinals fell behind early.
By all accounts, Albert has exceeded expectations so far in terms of production, but it’s his charisma and leadership qualities that have the St. Louis ball club looking so in sync. Albert, at 42 years of age, is playing with an exemplary level of heart and hustle.
You simply could not write a better storybook ending for the 20 and 30 something year olds like myself who came to love baseball while witnessing firsthand the greatest player of his generation play for the St. Louis Cardinals. Now we get to watch 5, 4, and 50 ride into the sunset as they’re looking to put the exclamation mark on the end of their storied careers. The 2022 season has the potential to be very memorable in St. Louis.