Pujols is center of attention at World Series

St. Louis Cardinals first baseman Albert Pujols lays by the batting cage before the start of practice Friday, Oct. 21, 2011, in Arlington, Texas. The Cardinals will play the Texas Rangers in Game 3 of baseball's World Series on Saturday.

St. Louis Cardinals first baseman Albert Pujols lays by the batting cage before the start of practice Friday, Oct. 21, 2011, in Arlington, Texas. The Cardinals will play the Texas Rangers in Game 3 of baseball's World Series on Saturday. Photo by The Associated Press.

ARLINGTON, Texas (AP) — Albert Pujols yelled across the Cardinals clubhouse with a semiserious message to his teammates after Friday's workout.

"Make sure you don't leave!" he said. "Talk to the media first!"

Even more attention than usual was focused on the star first baseman after St. Louis blew a ninth-inning lead Thursday night and lost Game 2 to the Texas Rangers 2-1, leaving the World Series tied at a game apiece.

Pujols made an error when he failed to cut off center fielder Jon Jay's throw in the ninth, allowing Elvis Andrus to advance to second with the potential go-ahead run. Andrus later came home on Michael Young's sacrifice fly.

Pujols left Busch Stadium quickly, without speaking with reporters. A day later after arriving in Texas, Pujols and Cardinals manager Tony La Russa maintained it was all a misunderstanding.

"It's getaway day. We're leaving earlier because we had an early workout." La Russa said. "They wanted to pack for their families. If anybody had said, 'We need to talk to Albert,' he would have stayed. ... I heard the criticism, and it offends me."

Out on the field, Pujols told reporters he was in the clubhouse kitchen for 20 minutes, then left because no one from the Cardinals media staff asked him to come out.

"I don't think that's fair because I was an hour-and-a-half the day before and 20 minutes last night and nobody came looking for me and I left. Now everybody wants to say I didn't want to talk with the press. That's just not realistic," Pujols said.

He did take responsibility for the on-field error.

"Obviously, I took my eyes off the ball and I missed it," he told reporters.

Pujols and the Cardinals will try to pull ahead Saturday night in Game 3.

This is the third World Series for the tall, bald and muscular slugger, a three-time NL MVP. He hit .333 with no RBIs as the Cardinals were swept by Boston in 2004, the batted .200 with a two-run homer to help St. Louis defeat Detroit in five games in 2006.

So far against the Rangers, he is 0 for 6 with an intentional walk and a hit by pitch, hitting three flyouts, one infield lineout and two groundouts. Trying to treat this stretch the same as the regular season, he was cheerful as he bantered with teammates while changing into a black tank top under a white dress shirt and a pinstriped suit before leaving the ballpark.

"It's not frustrating. It's just part of the game. You can't get frustrated," he said. "It's just the same game. Obviously, you've got a little bit more people, but it's the same game. You can't be putting pressure on yourself. You know how to play the game. You've just got to go out there and execute."

Pujols hit .350 with one RBI in the division series against Philadelphia and .478 with two homers and nine RBIs in the league championship series against Milwaukee.

Three months shy of his 32nd birthday, Pujols is about to become a free agent after completing the $16 million option year that followed a $100 million, seven-year contract. When talks with the Cardinals broke off in February, La Russa said he thought Pujols felt pressure from the players' association to "set the bar" and top Alex Rodriguez's $275 million, 10-year contract with the New York Yankees.

Pujols is being represented by Dan Lozano, who broke off last year from his former colleagues at the Beverly Hills Sports Council. While Cardinals' fans gave Pujols a standing ovation during the NLCS, thinking it was possibly his last home appearance, it appears his preference is to stay with the Cardinals if the team's offer is competitive, putting him in line to become a longterm team icon alongside Stan Musial. One day, his statue could be alongside Stan the Man's bronze image outside the ballpark.

After hitting .300 or better and topping 100 RBIs in his first 10 big league seasons, Pujols fell just short this year with a .299 average and 99 RBIs. He hit 37 home runs, surpassing 30 for the 11th straight year, and his importance to the Cardinals cannot be overstated.

"It's all based on experience and maturity," La Russa said. "He's so smart that all the experience just keeps feeding into some of these plays that he makes or at-bats that he takes. I think just every way you look at it, personally and professionally, he's better than ever."

And he's feared by pitchers, whether he's driving in runs or just threatening to. When Texas challenges him, it appears to be with soft stuff on the outside part of the plate.

"Sometimes we've been pitching around him," said Matt Harrison, the Rangers' Game 3 starter. "With him and any of the guys in the middle of the lineup, you have to be aggressive with them. You have to get ahead of those guys. You fall behind 2-0, 3-1, you're in fastball counts with them, and guys like that aren't going to miss fastballs, it doesn't matter how hard you throw."

For reliever Darren Oliver, it's the batters ahead of Pujols who are key.

"Hopefully, when you face him, there's nobody on base," the lefty said. "I throw everything but the kitchen sink at him, try to get him out anyway you can. fortunately, there's only so many Albert Pujolses in the league, so that's good."

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