THE REDBIRD REVIEW

Somewhere in the world there are happier places than Busch Stadium in St. Louis, Mo. But not many. Not at this time. Not when Albert Pujols leaves the on-deck circle and makes his way into the batter’s box.

More than 45,000 people rise from their chairs and stand. The smiles form immediately and spread from section to section. It’s like a new version of “The Wave,” but much, much better.

Fans point their smart phones at the monument wearing the No. 5 in anticipation of clicking the perfect camera shot. Kids jump up and down and giggle. The elderly grin with a look of pride – they’ve watched him grow up, go away, and return home after all of these years. All eyes are bright and wide open. Before the first pitch, some put their heads down for a few seconds … wishing, and hoping and praying.

It’s as if the 45,000 are summoning all of their energy and emotion and power of positive thinking in a collective act of transference, sending the good vibrations to home plate where The Great Pujols is digging in and setting up.

Fans of every age are pulled in by the moment, the expectation, the hope and the feeling that they’re about to see something special. They want to take in – and take home – something they’ll remember forever.

He feels it too.

Feels it in his soul.

The connection between this player and this fan base has never been more electric … more direct … more personal. It’s more than baseball. It’s a celebration, a thanksgiving, a shared experience that transcends any hard feelings between individuals. It doesn’t matter where you live, or where you worship. Race and gender are irrelevant. Your political beliefs end as soon as you walk into the ballpark.

Pujols is a unifying force that brings people together in unrestrained jubilation. Now go ahead and try to find that in the United States of America in 2022.

We know this: you can find it the next time Pujols emerges from the dugout for his next turn at the plate. Whether you are there at Busch Stadium, or another team’s ballpark, or watching from home, or hanging out with friends in a sports bar.

The power of Pujols will move you.

And your love will move him.

And so it was on Sunday afternoon, Cardinals vs. Cubs, the eighth inning of a scoreless tie, Tommy Edman at second base after a one-out double.

Pujols comes out of the shadows to pinch hit, looking all fierce and determined and dangerous. Cubs manager David Ross, perhaps under a spell – Pujols Power has no limits – told left-handed reliever Brandon Hughes to challenge the future Hall of Famer who owned 694 career homers.

Make it 695.

Make it pure Pujols.

On the second pitch Pujols blasted a two-run homer over the ramparts, and beyond the Cubs bullpen in left field, to shake Busch Stadium off its bedrock and lift the Cardinals to their unforgettable 2-0 triumph over the Cubs.

His mighty home-run swing was followed by one of the best home-run tours of the bases that we’ve ever seen. This was Pujols maximus. He went on a grand journey, accompanied by a soundtrack of delirious fans. Albert could have kept going around and around the bases again … all night long … straight into Labor Day … and no one would have left the ballpark. But best buddy Yadier Molina had left the dugout to greet Pujols, and the friends greeted each other with a full embrace. That may have been the best moment of their final season together at Busch Stadium.

Well, at least for now.

Pujols is 42 and acting half his age. The more love he gets from his people, the more he flexes to send the baseball on a long-distance flight. Pujols feels the crowd and is inspired by the display of unconditional devotion.

“That’s why these fans are the best fans in baseball,” Pujols said Sunday, soon after taking every fan at Busch on his latest rocket ride. “It’s pretty special to be able to do this and share that moment with [them.] Definitely, I wanted to do something special, and that can be your worst enemy, too, because you try to do too much. At the end of the day, knowing what you need to do, hunting the pitch you’re looking for and not trying to do too much … the nights you do it and you get to enjoy it, that’s what I love the most.”

I dig this statistic:

* Pujols played his first five seasons of home games at the previous version of Busch Stadium. From 2001 through 2006, he homered every 15 at-bats there.

* Pujols played his next six seasons of home games at the current Busch Stadium. From 2006 through 2011, he homered every 14.7 at-bats there.

* Busch Stadium is his home again in 2022. And this season, at age 42, Pujols has hit a home run every 15 at-bats at Busch.

I mean, c’mon. Two different home ballparks, three different phases of his career … at multiple stages of his life … starting as a rookie at age 21, ending his first run with the Cardinals at age 31 … and coming home for a final season at age 42.

And it has never deviated: Pujols hits a home run in his home ballpark – with his community cheering him on – every 15 at-bats.

And let’s not forget that he had a total of 18 at-bats at the current Busch Stadium in visits to St. Louis as an Angel (2017) and a Dodger (2021.) And he homered twice – one for every nine at-bats. That’s a better home-run rate than he had as a Cardinal.

Maybe that was Pujols’ way of sending a message to the Cardinals:

HEY.

I REALLY WANT TO COME HOME.

And we’re so grateful that the Cardinals and Pujols agreed to a reunion. The Pujols story just keeps getting better and better. More excitement, more drama, more entertainment. A ballpark that’s rocking again, providing the perfect setting for a legend that’s rocking again.

This is a dreamscape. The pursuit of 700 homers. The chase for an NL pennant. The quest for another World Series trophy.

Sunday, I think I watched the replay of No. 695 about 695 times. I was mesmerized. And I still can’t get enough of it.

Cards manager Oli Marmol offered this eloquent observation after his team’s seventh win in its last eight games …

“There are times when you take a step back from being locked into the game and you get to be a fan for a minute and experience it the way everybody else does, and that was one of them. You take a moment and take it all in because what he’s doing is absolutely incredible.”

The Cardinals have only 14 home games left on their regular-season schedule. But there will be postseason home games. How many, well, all you can do is hope that it lasts … all the way to the World Series. Because every precious day of watching Albert Pujols take his final swings is something to behold, and cherish.

ALL  PUJOLS … ALL OF THE TIME.

I haven’t finished writing about him today.

Pujols I: Among MLB hitters with at least 250 plate appearances this season, his .874 OPS through Sunday was higher than that of Alex Bregman, Vlad Guerrero Jr., Trea Turner, Corey Seager, Kyle Schwarber Matt Olson, Russ Springer, Jose Abreu, Francisco Lindor, Christian Yelich, Trevor Story and Nicholas Castellanos. Those are just a few random – but notable – names. There are many more “name” hitters that haven’t matched Pujols in OPS.

Pujols II: I don’t want to recycle the names listed above. So let’s bring some new names into this. Pujols’ .526 slugging percentage this season – minimum 250 PA – is higher than that of Pete Alonso, Freddie Freeman and Shohei Ohtani.

Pujols III: He has a 149 OPS+ this season, meaning that he’s 49 percent above league average offensively. This is amazing for multiple reasons, including his age. But through Sunday the 149 OPS+ was higher than his 148 OPS+ in 2011 – his 11th season as a Cardinal and his final campaign before signing the 10-year, free-agent contract with the Angels.

Pujols IV: Oh, by the way. Pujols’ 149 OPS+ matches that of Mookie Betts this season.

Pujols V: Let’s update the most exciting numbers of his offensive barrage. Through Sunday, Pujols had 94 plate appearances since the All-Star break. Among National League hitters that have at least 94 PA over that time, Pujols leads in batting average (.374), onbase percentage (.436), slugging percentage (.795), OPS (1.231.) He also leads the NL in park-adjusted runs created (wRC+) since the break at 139 percent above league average offensively. Pujols’ batting average since the ASB leads the majors, and he’s second to Aaron Judge in OBP, Slug and OPS.

Pujols VI: Among hitters that have at least 114 plate appearances vs. left-handed pitching this season, Pujols is second (to Aaron Judge) in the majors with 12 home runs. And Pujols is second in slugging (.790), third in OPS (1.202) and fourth in batting average (.370.)

Pujols VII: Pujols has cudgeled left-handed pitchers for a home run every 8.3 at-bats against them this year.

Pujols VIII: In baseball’s modern era, among hitters that have (or had) at least 150 plate appearances in their age-42 season, Pujols ranks second to Barry Bonds in slugging percentage (.526) and OPS+ (149.) In 2007 Bonds had a .565 slug and 169 OPS+. Pujols, with 16 bombs, is now tied for fourth in most home runs in a season among age-43 hitters. Bonds had 28 in 2007, Carlton Fisk had 18 in 1990, and Pujols is even with Carl Yastrzemski who had 16 in 1982.

Pujols IX: Quote on Pujols from Cubs starting pitcher Marcus Stroman: “He’s one of the legends of this game. He has surpassed generations.”

Pujols X: Why is Pujols so dominant against lefty pitchers? I did some quick research at Brooks Baseball Net. He’s shown substantial improvement against the breaking pitches they’ve thrown this season. This year Pujols has a .347 average and .647 slug against breaking balls from LHP. Those are his best numbers in a season in that specific category since 2010. Wow. Another note: Pujols has hit nine home runs on four-seam fastballs (6) and sinkers (3) thrown by lefties this year.

NOTES ON MY SCORECARD

Accounting Department: Through Sunday the Cardinals had the best record (25-7) and winning percentage (.781) since the start of August, one game better than the Dodgers (24-8).

— The Cardinals are 29-11 since the All-Star break for a .725 winning percentage that ranks second to the Dodgers .744. LA’s record since the break is 32-11 …

— The Cardinals entered the new week with a lead of 8 and ½ games over the second-place Brewers in the NL Central. After losing a game at Washington on July 30, the Cards trailed Milwaukee by four games. In only 36 days the Cardinals went from being four games down to 8.5 games up – a flip of 12 and ½ games in the standings. Since July 31 the Cardinals are 26-7 and the Brewers are 13-19.

—  After sweeping the Cubs the Cardinals improved to 45-22 at Busch Stadium this season and have won seven consecutive series at home – going 18-2 over the seven series. Beginning with a series win at Washington in the final days of July, the Cardinals are 10-1 in their last 11 series. The only defeat came at Coors Field (Aug. 9-11.)

— The Cardinals (79-55) enter Monday’s game at 24 games above .500 for the first time in a season since July 11, 2015. That ‘15 team went on to win 100 games.

Home-Run Power Is Winning Power: Let’s update an important note that I presented to “Scoops” readers last week. And this is the No. 1 reason why the Cardinals have turned into baseball’s hottest team since the beginning of August:

— The Cardinals have hit two or more homers in 51 games this season and are 43-8 when they do it.

— The Cardinals have slammed two or more homers in 25 of their 40 games since the All-Star break. That’s a ridiculously good number, and they’re 22-3 in those 25 homer-happy games.

— The Cardinals have won 13 in a row when homering two times or more in a game.

— The Cardinals lead the majors with 71 home runs since the All-Star break and have fired 10 more homers than any other team.

— The Cardinals have smashed 57 homers while going an MLB-best 25-7 since the beginning of August.

— And what happens when the Cardinals fail to hit at least two homers in a game? This: a record of 36-47.

Home-run power is the predominant reason for the STL’s smashing success. Tell all of your friends.

The Jeff Albert Offense: Yep, the Cardinals still lead MLB in homers, batting average, onbase percentage, slugging, OPS and park-adjusted runs created since the All-Star break … and their average of 5.8 runs per game is just a tick below the Dodgers.

Bulls On Parade: Through Sunday the Cardinal bullpen had turned in a fantastic performance in the team’s eight games since Aug. 27. The St. Louis relievers were nipped for one earned run in 30.2 innings for a sterling 0.29 ERA. Over this stretch the bulls allowed a .149 average, .239 OBP and .198 slug with a 27.2 percent strikeout rate. And they gave up only three extra-base hits to their 114 batters faced.

When Lars Stars: The Cardinals are 41-19 this season when Lars Nootbaar is written into the starting lineup … in his last 37 games Noot has a .408 OBP and a .555 slug for a .963 OPS. And 16 of his 33 hits have gone for extra bases over that time including seven homers. The Cardinals are 28-9 in Nootbaar’s last 37 games.

Tommy Turnaround: Tommy Edman was rolling in his last 20 games through Sunday with a .300 average, .338 OBP and a booming .686 slugging percentage. That’s a 1.024 OPS. And what about the power? During the 20-game stretch Edman had seven doubles, a triple and six homers while driving in 13 runs and scoring 16. For the season Edman has pulled his OPS+ up to 10 percent above league average offensively. And he’s smacked 26 doubles and 13 homers with 51 runs batted in. Edman’s 51 RBI are the same as Jose Altuve, Max Muncy, Gleyber Torres, Byron Buxton and Andrew Benintendi – and more than Javy Baez, Carlos Correa, DJ LeMahieu, Ke’Bryan Hayes and Josh Donaldson – among others.

General Randomness: Good luck to Jack Flaherty as he returns to the mound Monday. A healthy, happy and confident Flaherty can make a huge difference going forward – and that includes the postseason … the Cardinals 43 44-23 this season in games started by Miles Mikolas, Adam Wainwright, Jordan Montgomery and Jose Quintana. The Redbirds are 11-1 games started by Montgomery and Quintana since the two lefties were acquired at the trade deadline … heading into the four-game series against the Nationals the Cardinals are 53-26 against teams with losing records for a .670 winning percentage … can Yadier Molina build on his promising start in September? Through Saturday he was 4 for 7 with two doubles in the earliest days of the month … going into the Washington series the Cardinals were fourth in the majors and second in the NL with 58 defensive runs saved … and the Cardinals were fifth overall and third in the NL with a net base-running gain of plus 76.

Thanks for reading …

–Bernie

Bernie invites you to listen to his opinionated sports-talk show on 590-AM The Fan, KFNS. It airs Monday through Thursday from 3-6 p.m. and Friday from 4-6 p.m. You can listen by streaming online or by downloading the show podcast at 590thefan.com or the 590 app which is available in your preferred app store.

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Please email your “Ask Bernie” questions to BernScoops@gmail.com

All stats used here were sourced from FanGraphs, Baseball Reference, Stathead, Bill James Online, Fielding Bible, Baseball Savant, Brooks Baseball Net and Spotrac.

 

 

 

 

 

Bernie Miklasz
Bernie Miklasz

For the last 35 years Bernie Miklasz has entertained, enlightened, and connected with generations of St. Louis sports fans.

While best known for his voice as the lead sports columnist at the Post-Dispatch for 26 years, Bernie has also written for The Athletic, Dallas Morning News and Baltimore News American. Bernie has hosted radio shows in St. Louis, Dallas, Baltimore and Washington D.C.

Bernie, his wife Kirsten and their cats reside in the Skinker-DeBaliviere neighborhood of St. Louis.