A baseball ‘machine’ finds happiness

LOS ANGELES – It was a packed house, there was a big moment and the baseball was moving skyward on a line straight towards October.

Albert Pujols posed in a uniform he had never expected to wear from a place he had never imagined. It was teammate Corey Seeger’s two-run blast that ignited the roaring roar of a Los Angeles evening last week. And there was Pujol, the Dodgers in the dugout, leading the cheers.

Once, as he was known as The Machine in those days, Pujols commanded his own stretch-run spotlight. Those big moments now belong mostly to the others, while Pujols usually focuses on a nightly plate appearance, strategically placed against a left-handed reliever – albeit with the injury of Max Muncie, who died on Wednesday. The National League could turn into a wild-card game. St. Louis Cardinals at Dodger Stadium.

The Dodgers signed Pujols four days after that in May. unofficial release by the Los Angeles Angels and in the final season of 10 years, a $240 million contract. In his very distinctive role, he has flourished beyond expectations, scorching the left for a .306 batting average and finishing the season with 12 homers and 38 RBIs for the Dodgers.

His peers raved about his joie de vivre. And now a man who once dominated October for St. Louis is back in the post season for the first time since 2014 – and his first test will be against his beloved Cardinals. His disappointing ending with the Angels seems to be vanishing from the narrative.

“Everything that happened to the Angels happened to the Angels,” said longtime Dodgers ace Clayton Kershaw. “But as soon as he came here, he took up his role, which is huge for us. I think we needed it. We needed that old legend. He calls himself Tio, we call him Tio “That uncle-type helps kill everyone, but there’s also a guy who cheers for you while smiling in the dugout.”

See him during a game – smiling, laughing, cheering, the occasional late lager – and he seems to have found the perfect spot for himself.

Unquestionably nearing the end of a career that saw him amass 3,301 hits, 679 home runs and two World Series rings, Pujol, 41, sat in the Dodgers’ dugout nearly 16 hours after Seager’s explosion and his unexpected return to October baseball. Considered.

“Hey, listen, it was going to be a good year for these guys whether I was here or not,” Pujols said of his Dodgers teammates. “They are a really good, talented ball club, with great management, a great coaching staff, great preparation and great hitting coaches.

“I am just blessed to have this opportunity.”

In his first 11 seasons – with St. Louis – Pujols made the playoffs seven times, and went to the World Series in those three years. Since 2011, he has only come back once. He spent most of those Octobers in Orange County, Calif., with his wife, Deidre, and their five school-age children. He said he rarely watches TV, and that includes the playoffs and the World Series if he is not participating.

“I may play an innings or two here or there, but I think the off-season is the time to refresh and train your mind for the things that you want to achieve next year,” he said. “To tell you the truth, I watch more Caribbean baseball than the World Series — the Winter League, stuff like that.”

Recent October, he said, has been spent with his kids at the pool, riding bikes, going to the beach. Kids lobby for a visit to their favorite restaurant and Deidre cooks a lot at home.

But this week, Pujols will trade all of that for another fall in front of packed stadiums.

“You can tell he appreciates being on this team; he really enjoys everyone’s success, being the Super Elder-Statesman,” said another Dodgers ace, Max Scherzer, with a laugh.

To put Pujols’ age – 41 – in context, four of this year’s 10 postseason managers have been spotted on the field in front of him as players last October: Dodgers Dave Roberts and San Francisco’s Gabe Kapler of the Boston Red Sox. were team mates. who defeated Pujols and the Cardinals in the 2004 World Series. Boston’s Alex Cora was with the Dodgers during the 2004 division series between Los Angeles and St. Louis. Milwaukee’s Craig Consul faced Pujol’s teams twice, in the 2001 Division Series when Counsel was with Arizona and in the 2011 National League Championship Series when he was with the Brewers.

Two other key figures after the season also have extensive October experience with Pujols: Tony La Russa, now with the Chicago White Sox, managed Pujols in player 11 seasons with St. And Atlanta third-base coach Ron Washington was managing Texas during one of Pujol’s signature career moments: his Three-Homer Game 3 Helped St. Louis to a thrilling seven-game title in the 2011 World Series.

“Was anyone surprised? Nooooo,” said Washington. “That was Albert Pujols. You used to make bad pitches to Albert Pujols at that time, you got hurt.”

The Dodgers signed Pujols when Seeger was sidelined with a broken arm and outfielder Cody Bellinger was out with a hairline leg fracture. He envisioned him starting something at first base against the left wing, knowing that he would eventually fall short of a seasoned batsman off the bench. NS Tree Turner and Scherzer Acquisition From Washington on the trade deadline in July, with Seeger and others returning to health, has actually cut their playing time – but hasn’t made them any less valuable.

“He sees a lot of things that people don’t see,” said Skip Shoemaker, bench coach of the San Diego Padres from 2005 to 2011 and Pujols’ teammate in St. The shoemaker called Pujols the smartest player ever. .

“He helped me like you wouldn’t believe playing next to me, telling me what to look for and, believing I could play next to him on the championship team,” said Shoemaker. “It goes so far.”

Dodgers rookie Gavin Lux has drawn Pujols’ attention to detail, how even in the batting cage “every little thing counts, it seems he’s got everything and I still see him talking to hitting coaches. “

During their run of eight consecutive NL West titles, the Dodgers have embarked on a highly successful mentorship program, bringing in Chase Utley and David Freese at the end of their careers before Pujols.

“Those three are very different people,” Kershaw said. “They’re guys I have more respect than I’ve played with. Freezer was a born leader and people followed him. Chase was like that but in a calmer way. Before doing anything, people wanted to see what he was doing.” going to do.

“Albert is a little more charismatic, a little more joyful. He’s happy, smiling, enjoying his time. It’s almost like it’s rejuvenated him in a sense, a really good one.” To be on the team, to go to playoff baseball again.”

Pujols said he clearly remembers his own mentors when he came to the majors in 2001 as a rookie. Mark McGwire, Jim Edmonds, “And My Latin People – Placido Polanco, Edgar Renteria, Fernando Vina.” Then several others whom the Cardinals added through trade: Hall of Famer Larry Walker. Reggie Sanders. Woody Williams.

“I think it would be really selfish if I can’t pass on the knowledge they’ve given me to these young players,” Pujols said. “It’s something I embrace and enjoy. It’s given me a new boost in my life. That’s what I’m telling them.”

“In the last four months, I’ve been having more fun than I’ve had in a while.”

He noticed substantial changes in the game and noticed that when his time came, he easily surprised some by slipping into a new uniform and a new role.

“Listen, it’s not rocket science,” Pujols said. “You’ve seen people with roles like this at the end of your career. I know I’m not the player I once was. I think everyone knows. But I think I’m still contributing.” That’s why I’m still wearing this uniform. Whenever I get a chance, whether on the field or in the dugout, I’m going to give my best to help this organization.

For the Dodgers, those contributions have proved significant. On a Sunday afternoon in August, as the Dodgers faced off against the Angels, Roberts hurriedly called on Pujols to pinch for Justin Turner in the second inning after Turner strained his groin. Pujols responded with a two-run homer and played first base for the rest of the way. It’s one of Roberts’ favorite moments from this season.

“There’s no authority with that,” Roberts said. “And if there’s anyone who might feel entitled, it’s the first ballot Hall of Famer. But he’s just one of the boys.”

Even if he is not the player he once was, Pujol still brings a certain intimidation factor to the game that is hard to replicate.

“You pop that lefty, you know he’s going to come out of that dugout,” Braves manager Brian Snitker said of the anticipated late-innings matchup. “You sure where he is.”

How old is Pujols other than 41? Scherzer is a St. Louis native who rooted for Pujols during high school before graduating in 2003. He was kicked out of the University of Missouri in 2006, the year the Cardinals defeated Detroit in the World Series. While both men are expected to be inducted into the Hall of Fame one day, Scherzer, 37, is concerned about sharing a clubhouse with Pujols, his one-time hero.

“It’s not normal,” Scherzer said. “It’s not normal that I’m playing with Albert Pujols.”

Indeed, when the Dodgers were in St. Louis last month, Scherzer took a moment to corral Pujols for a photo.

“I don’t care what you say,” Scherzer said as he told Pujols. “I want to take a picture with you in front of the Ark.”

Now, as Pujol steps into the post season for the first time in seven years, he has every chance to make it more than just another photo op. Next is another chapter, who else, the Cardinals.

“It’s crazy,” said Pujols. “You can’t even write it.”

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