Albert Pujols Finds Happiness With Dodgers

LOS ANGELES — It was a packed home, a giant second and the baseball was rising towards the sky on a line straight towards October.

Albert Pujols watched in a uniform he by no means anticipated to put on from a spot he by no means imagined he can be. It was teammate Corey Seager’s two-run blast that lit the roar that capped a Los Angeles night final week. And there was Pujols, within the Dodgers dugout, main the cheers.

As soon as, within the days he was often called The Machine, Pujols commanded his personal stretch-run highlight. These large moments now largely belong to others, whereas Pujols focuses on what’s often one nightly plate look, strategically positioned, in opposition to a left-handed reliever — although with Max Muncy injured, that would change in Wednesday’s Nationwide League wild-card recreation in opposition to the St. Louis Dodgers at Dodger Stadium.

The Dodgers signed Pujols in Might, 4 days after his unceremonious launch by the Los Angeles Angels and within the last season of a 10-year, $240 million contract. In his very particular function, he has flourished past expectations, scorching lefties for a .306 batting common and ending the season with 12 homers and 38 R.B.I. for the Dodgers.

His teammates rave about his joie de vivre. And now a person who as soon as dominated Octobers for St. Louis is again within the postseason for the primary time since 2014 — and his first check will come in opposition to his beloved Cardinals. His irritating finish with the Angels is fading from the narrative.

“No matter occurred with the Angels is what occurred with the Angels,” the longtime Dodgers ace Clayton Kershaw stated. “However as quickly as he received right here, he embraced his function, which has been so enormous for us. I feel we wanted that. We wanted that older veteran. He calls himself Tio, we name him Tio, that uncle-type serving to everyone out with hitting but in addition being a man who’s comfortable for you if you do effectively, smiling within the dugout.”

Watch him throughout a recreation — the smiling, the laughing, the cheering, the occasional late-innings laser — and he seems to have discovered the proper spot for himself.

Unquestionably close to the top of profession that has seen him acquire 3,301 hits, 679 residence runs and two World Collection rings, Pujols, 41, sat within the Dodgers’ dugout some 16 hours after Seager’s blast and contemplated his surprising return to October baseball.

“Hey, hear, these guys have been going to have an important yr whether or not I used to be right here or not,” Pujols stated of his Dodgers teammates. “They’re only a actually good, gifted ball membership with nice managing, an important teaching employees, nice preparation and nice hitting coaches.

“I’m simply blessed to have this chance.”

In his first 11 seasons — all with St. Louis — Pujols made the playoffs seven occasions, and went to the World Collection in three of these years. Since 2011, he has been again solely as soon as. He spent most of these Octobers together with his spouse, Deidre, and their 5 school-age youngsters at residence in Orange County, Calif. He hardly ever watches TV, he stated, and that features the playoffs and World Collection if he isn’t collaborating.

“I’d catch an inning or two right here or there however I really feel the low season is a time to refresh and prepare your thoughts for belongings you wish to accomplish for the subsequent yr,” he stated. “To let you know the reality, I watch extra Caribbean baseball than the World Collection — the winter league, stuff like that.”

Latest Octobers, he stated, have been spent together with his youngsters within the pool, driving bikes, going to the seashore. The children foyer for journeys to their favourite eating places and Deidre cooks rather a lot at residence.

However this week, Pujols will commerce all of that for yet another fall in entrance of packed stadiums.

“You possibly can inform he appreciates being on this workforce; he actually enjoys the success of everyone, being the tremendous elder-statesman,” one other Dodgers ace, Max Scherzer, stated, chuckling.

To place Pujols’s age — 41 — in context, 4 of this yr’s 10 postseason managers have taken up spots on the sector reverse him in earlier Octobers as gamers: the Dodgers’ Dave Roberts and San Francisco’s Gabe Kapler have been teammates on the Boston Purple Sox workforce that swept Pujols and the Cardinals within the 2004 World Collection. Boston’s Alex Cora was with the Dodgers throughout a 2004 division collection between Los Angeles and St. Louis. Milwaukee’s Craig Counsell confronted Pujols’s groups twice, in a 2001 division collection when Counsell was with Arizona and within the 2011 Nationwide League Championship Collection when he was with the Brewers.

Two different key postseason figures even have intensive October expertise with Pujols: Tony La Russa, now with the Chicago White Sox, managed Pujols within the participant’s 11 seasons with St. Louis. And the Atlanta third-base coach Ron Washington was managing Texas throughout one in all Pujols’s signature profession moments: his three-homer Sport 3 within the 2011 World Collection that helped St. Louis to an exciting seven-game title.

“Was anybody stunned? Nooooo,” Washington stated. “That was Albert Pujols. You make dangerous pitches to Albert Pujols again then, you bought harm.”

The Dodgers signed Pujols when Seager was sidelined with a damaged hand and outfielder Cody Bellinger was out with a hairline leg fracture. They envisioned him beginning some at first base in opposition to lefties, realizing he would finally be lowered to a veteran bat off the bench. The acquisition of Trea Turner and Scherzer from Washington on the commerce deadline in July, together with the return to well being of Seager and others, has certainly reduce into his taking part in time — however has made him no much less precious.

“He sees a number of issues folks don’t see,” stated Skip Schumaker, a bench coach for the San Diego Padres and a teammate of Pujols’s in St. Louis from 2005 to 2011. Schumaker known as Pujols the neatest participant he has ever identified.

“He helped me such as you wouldn’t imagine taking part in proper subsequent to me, telling me what to search for and, by the way in which, giving me the boldness that I might play subsequent to him on a championship workforce,” Schumaker stated. “That goes to date.”

The Dodgers rookie Gavin Lux has picked up on Pujols’s consideration to element, how even within the batting cage “each little factor issues, it looks as if he’s received the whole lot discovered and I nonetheless see him speaking to hitting coaches.”

Throughout their run of eight consecutive N.L. West titles, the Dodgers have included a extremely profitable mentorship program, bringing in Chase Utley and David Freese on the finish of their careers earlier than Pujols.

“These three are all very totally different guys,” Kershaw stated. “They’re guys I’ve extra respect for than most I’ve performed with. Freeser was only a born chief and guys adopted him. Chase was the identical manner however in a quieter manner. Folks needed to see what he was going to do earlier than they did one thing.

“Albert is a bit more charismatic, just a little extra joyful. He’s comfortable, smiling, having fun with his time. It’s nearly prefer it’s rejuvenated him in a way, attending to be on a very good workforce, attending to go to playoff baseball once more.”

Pujols stated that he vividly remembers his personal mentors when he burst into the majors as a rookie in 2001. Mark McGwire, Jim Edmonds, “and my Latin guys — Placido Polanco, Edgar Renteria, Fernando Vina.” Then varied others whom the Cardinals added through commerce: The Corridor of Famer Larry Walker. Reggie Sanders. Woody Williams.

“I feel it will actually be egocentric if I can’t go the knowledge they gave me to those younger gamers,” Pujols stated. “That’s one thing that I embrace and luxuriate in. It’s given me a brand new enhance in my life. That’s what I’m telling them.

“The final 4 months right here, I’m having extra enjoyable than I’ve had in awhile.”

He’s lived by way of and witnessed sufficient transition within the recreation that when his time got here, he stunned some by simply slipping into a brand new uniform and a brand new function.

“Pay attention, it’s not rocket science,” Pujols stated. “You’ve seen guys with this sort of function towards the top of their profession. I do know I’m not the participant I as soon as was. I feel everyone is aware of that. However I feel I can nonetheless contribute. That’s why I’m nonetheless carrying this uniform. Any time I’ve the chance, whether or not it’s within the subject or within the dugout, I going to offer my finest to assist this group.”

To the Dodgers, these contributions have proved important. On a Sunday afternoon in August, because the Dodgers confronted off in opposition to the Angels, Roberts unexpectedly summoned Pujols to pinch-hit for Justin Turner within the second inning after Turner strained his groin. Pujols responded with a two-run homer and performed first base the remainder of the way in which. It stays one in all Roberts’s favourite moments from this season.

“There’s no entitlement with him,” Roberts stated. “And if there’s anyone who might really feel entitled, it’s a first-ballot Corridor of Famer. However he’s simply one of many guys.”

Even when he isn’t the participant he as soon as was, Pujols nonetheless brings a sure intimidation issue to the sport that’s arduous to duplicate.

“You pop that lefty, you already know he’s going to come back out of that dugout,” Braves Supervisor Brian Snitker stated of anticipated late-innings matchups. “You’re rattling certain of the place he’s at.”

How previous is Pujols, in addition to 41? Scherzer is a St. Louis native who rooted for Pujols throughout highschool earlier than graduating in 2003. He was drafted out of the College of Missouri in 2006, the yr the Cardinals beat Detroit within the World Collection. Whereas each males are anticipated to be inducted within the Corridor of Fame sooner or later, Scherzer, 37, stays giddy about sharing a clubhouse with Pujols, his one-time hero.

“It’s not regular,” Scherzer stated. “It’s not regular that I’m taking part in with Albert Pujols.”

Certainly, when the Dodgers have been in St. Louis final month, Scherzer took a second to corral Pujols for a photograph.

“I don’t care what you say,” Scherzer stated he instructed Pujols. “I’ve received to get an image with you in entrance of the Arch.”

Now, as Pujols steps into the postseason for the primary time in seven years, he has each probability to make it extra than simply one other picture op. Subsequent up is yet another chapter in opposition to, who else, the Cardinals.

“It’s loopy,” Pujols stated. “You possibly can’t even write this up.”

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