The first thing to understand about Albert Pujols is he is not supposed to be playing right now, not after the frightening first-base collision on June 19 that left him rolling on the field at Busch Stadium with a broken left wrist.
07/28/2011 4:40 PM ET
Pujols back to his old ways
Cardinals slugger has picked up where he left off before injury
By Hal Bock / MLBPLAYERS.com
A broken wrist, any broken bone, usually means four-to-six weeks on the disabled list in the best of circumstances, maybe six to eight in the worst. Pujols was back in two, hitting home runs and driving in runs again, just like nothing had happened.
"The next day after the collision, the wrist felt good," he said. "I felt I could play. They said four to six weeks, but I told the trainers I thought I could come back before then."
And that's exactly what he did. Two days after he broke his wrist, Pujols was taking dry swings. The torque in his left arm was there, intact with no after-effect from the injury. "It didn't feel bad at all," he said. "It didn't bother me."
Baseball rules say being on the disabled list requires two weeks away. Pujols missed 13 games and returned on July 5. In the next two weeks, he hit four home runs, including a walkoff, and had 12 RBIs and a .535 slugging percentage.
Pujols was injured reaching for a wide throw from second baseman Pete Kozma. As he reached for the ball, his left arm was extended into Wilson Betemit and the runner crashed into it. Down went Pujols, writhing in pain.
"It was late in the game," Pujols said. "It's a ball I usually make the play on. It's just something that happened."
The Cardinals pieced things together for two weeks without Pujols and when he returned to the lineup, it was as if he had never been away. The power and the presence in the middle of the Cardinals lineup was back intact with Pujols, Matt Holliday and Lance Berkman providing formidable 3-4-5 hitters for St. Louis.
Pujols hit his 20th home run of the season in the middle of a road trip at Cincinnati and then slipped into an 0-for-10 dry spell before smacking No. 22 in Pittsburgh. That gave him 430 for his career, 41st all time and one short of Hall of Famer Cal Ripken Jr. He is once again on the road to a 30-home run season, a regular place for him. He is the only player in Major League history with 30 home runs and 100 RBIs in each of his first 10 seasons. He came onto this season with a career batting average of .331 and is closing in on 2,000 career hits. When he arrives at that milestone, he will join Hall of Famers Stan Musial, Lou Brock, Enos Slaughter and Rogers Hornsby as the only Cardinals to reach that plateau.
"At the end of the season, he's going to be somewhere near his career averages for everything," manager Tony La Russa said. "He missed two weeks, but he's the same Albert he's been for 10 years."
"I don't think about numbers," Pujols said. "If I can stay healthy, I know what I can do. My main concern is to help the Cardinals win ball games. It's not easy. It's hard work."
Puljols has never backed away from hard work, though. His offseason training regimen is a rigorous one, designed to prepare him for the season ahead. This season, though, he struggled at the start, batting just .245 over the first month and grounding into nine double plays.
"I wish that start didn't happen," he said. "But, you know, it's not how you start, it's how you finish. That's why I train hard in the offseason."
And the Cardinals are counting on a strong finish from the man who has been one of baseball's most dependable sluggers for the last decade.
Hal Bock is a freelance writer based in New York.