Where's Albert? On Tony's bench as NL loses again
By Rick Hummel
ST. LOUIS POST-DISPATCH
SAN FRANCISCO — Albert Pujols made big-league history as a rookie for the Cardinals in 2001 when he became the first player to start 30 or more games at four positions (third base, first base, left field, right field), and he even played second base in his first All-Star Game appearance that year.
It was such versatility that National League All-Star manager Tony La Russa, also Pujols' manager during the season, had in mind during his club's 5-4 loss to the American League on Tuesday night. The American League's 10th straight victory (there was a tie in 2002) was achieved with Seattle's Ichiro Suzuki hitting the first inside-the-park home run in All-Star Game history, and it also was achieved with Pujols sitting on the bench — the only National League position player not to have seen action.
La Russa, knowing that Florida third baseman Miguel Cabrera was available only to pinch hit and not available to play in the field because of a shoulder injury, moved Pittsburgh's Freddy Sanchez from his projected utility role to backup third baseman to New York's David Wright. This made Pujols, the reigning Gold Glove first baseman, the National League's utility man, which La Russa thought he had explained to Pujols before the game.
Pujols was smiling as he spoke after the game, but he didn't mask his disappointment about not playing. Nor did a more contentious La Russa hide his disappointment that Pujols hadn't understood the situation. Advertisement
Pujols had said Monday that he would do "whatever (La Russa) wants" as a player chosen not by the fans or the players but by La Russa himself. But when Pujols didn't play Tuesday night, he said, "Go ask the manager. He's the one you should ask. I have no idea. He didn't even talk to me at all.
"This is the All-Star Game. He's the manager. He can do anything he wants.
"But if I wasn't expecting myself to play, I wouldn't have come up here. I'd rather stay home with my family. That's the way it is."
Dmitri Young, not Pujols, pinch hit in the ninth inning when the National League rallied for two runs on Alfonso Soriano's opposite-field homer and then loaded the bases on three walks before Aaron Rowand flied out to end the game.
It was clear at that point that Pujols, the Cardinals' only representative, was La Russa's extra-inning man.
"I was ready," said Pujols. "I was born ready Maybe he wanted to play the other guys and maybe he didn't want to leave the other guys out. Maybe if he would have played me and left another guy out, they would have said, 'Why did he play Albert instead of the other guy?'
"I was loose and ready to go. Maybe he was saving me for next year's All-Star Game."
Though disappointed, Pujols was laughing at this point.
La Russa was told about Pujols' generally genial mood but still couldn't fathom Pujols' surprise at not playing. And La Russa, biting his words, clearly was not laughing.
"Albert was the guy who was going to do whatever we needed," said La Russa. "If Albert doesn't understand that, I'm surprised and disappointed. It isn't that tough a thing. I explained his role to him before the game.
"Let me ask you this. If we go to extra innings, who's going to be our player to move around and play? Can Dmitri move around and play? Or is Albert going to do that? Who's the most versatile guy not playing? It's Albert. It isn't even that tough. He'll figure it out sooner or later.
"But I'm more disappointed that we lost than that he doesn't understand it." La Russa, who won three straight All-Star Games for the American League from 1989-91 when he was with Oakland, has suffered two All-Star losses as a National League manager in 2005 and this year.
Baseball's two best leadoff men, Suzuki and Jose Reyes of the New York Mets, reigned head and shoulders over their peers. The difference was that Suzuki had just a tad more help from his American League confreres.
The .359-hitting Suzuki had two singles and then homered in his final at-bat in the fifth, wrapping up the Most Valuable Player award.
Reyes, the majors' stolen-base leader at 46, singled twice and doubled in his first three at-bats and stole a base before scoring the National League's first run.
The All-Star Game victory ensured that the American League will have the home-field advantage in the World Series, marking the fifth straight time that has happened since the home-field carrot was offered first in 2003.
But La Russa said, "If we compete like this every year, we'll win. We took care of our business. We just came up a run short."