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Albert Pujols swings for the fences — and for the ages

Albert Pujols hit three home runs last night, a magnificent performance for a single game in baseball.

But to do that in the World Series? Well, you’d have to have been there in 1977 (three years before Pujols was born) to watch the New York Yankees’ Reggie Jackson – “Mr. October” – accomplish the same thing. Then way, way, way back to 1928 to see Babe Ruth himself tie his own 1926 record for three homers in a World Series game.

It left sports scribes – never known for their lack of over-the-topness – sputtering as they searched for comparisons to other events in the history of humankind.

“Lincoln at Gettysburg. Hendrix at Woodstock. Pujols at Arlington,” wrote Sports Illustrated baseball columnist Tom Verducci. “It was, quite simply, the greatest night by one player in the history of the 620 World Series games ever played.”

What Pujols did Saturday night is “destined to be etched in bronze on a plaque in Cooperstown,” predicted Tyler Kepner of the New York Times.

And it wasn’t just Pujols’ three mighty blasts over the fences at Rangers Ballpark that defined for history the St. Louis Cardinals’ 16-7 win over the Texas Rangers in Arlington.

In that one game, noted Verducci: “He also tied World Series records for runs batted in (six, by Bobby Richardson and Hideki Matsui) and hits (five by Paul Molitor, with Pujols, incredibly, getting five hits off five different pitchers in a six-inning span). The hits – two singles and three homers – added up to 14 total bases, two more than the previous record shared by Ruth and Jackson.”

To say that “no one ever had a night this big” seemed almost superfluous. Until he began turning his bat into a bazooka, the night (and the series to that point) had been less than remarkable for Pujols. He had gone hitless in the first two games at home in St. Louis, and he’d made a defensive error at first base then refused to talk with reporters about any of that. His first time up Saturday night, he grounded out.

But by the end of the evening – having left the Texas pitching staff battered and the hometown fans at Rangers Ballpark stunned – all that was forgotten. (Although not, you can be certain, by pitchers Alexi Ogando, Michael Gonzalez, and Darren Oliver, who had to watch the ball they’d just been holding soar into the stratosphere.)

When (and if) the Series gets to game 6 and returns to Busch Stadium in St. Louis, you can bet the fan response to Pujols’ first time at bat will set the nearby 630-foot Gateway Arch swaying.

“Hopefully, at the end of my career, I can look back and say, ‘Wow, what a game it was in Game 3 in 2011,” Pujols said when it was all over Saturday night.

Wow, indeed.

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