ARLINGTON, Texas (AP) — First, Alexi Ogando watched Albert Pujols circle the bases. Then, Michael Gonzalez. And finally, Darren Oliver.
Pujols joined Babe Ruth and Reggie Jackson as the only players to hit three home runs in a World Series game, tying records with five hits and six RBIs to lead the Cardinals to a 16-7 rout of the Texas Rangers on Saturday night.
Just like last year, the Rangers trail 2-1 in the best-of-seven championship. Only last season, they gritted out a morale-boosting 4-2 win over San Francisco in Game 3 before losing two in a row.
“It was just one of those days,” Oliver said. “Every game is a must-win. We didn’t get it done today, need a win tomorrow. There’s no doubt.”
Two days after being criticized for his silence following a crucial ninth-inning error in Game 2, Pujols did the talking with his bat. The three-time NL MVP turned on a 96 mph pitch from Ogando in the sixth for a 423-foot, three-run homer that clanked off the facing above the restaurant windows in left field and made it 11-6. He added a two-run shot to left-center in the seventh and a solo drive to left-center in the ninth.
“I didn’t walk into the ballpark today thinking that I was going to have a night like this,” Pujols said. “Just pretty special, you know, but at the same time, you need to enjoy this for a minute and be ready to play tomorrow.”
Pujols set a Series record with 14 total bases. He was 0 for 6 in the first two games.
“When Pujols is at the plate, that’s the first time he did damage. We fought back pretty good, the next thing you know he’s up there batting with guys on base and brings them in,” Oliver said. “That’s what he does. That’s why he’s the hitter he is.”
Former President George W. Bush and Rangers CEO Nolan Ryan looked dismayed, watching from front-row seats. Ryan must have felt a temptation to head out to the mound and throw a few pitches in hopes of restoring order.
“He’s a great hitter. You can’t take that from him,” Gonzalez said. “But the thing is, when you miss location to good hitters, they’re going to take advantage of your mistakes.”
Pujols matched the three-homer feat accomplished by a pair of Yankees Hall of Famers: Ruth against the Cardinals in Game 4 in 1926 and Game 4 in 1928, and Jackson against the Dodgers in Game 6 in 1977.
“It’s pretty special. Those guys are great players, and to do it at that level and on this stage is amazing,” Pujols said.
He matched the hits record set by Milwaukee’s Paul Molitor in the 1982 opener against the Cardinals, and the six RBIs equaled the Yankees’ Bobby Richardson in Game 3 in 1960 and Hideki Matsui in Game 6 two years ago.
Losing pitcher Matt Harrison, Scott Feldman, Ogando, Gonzalez, Mark Lowe and Oliver combined to give up 15 hits, three more than the Cardinals had in the first two games. St. Louis set a franchise postseason scoring record, overcoming a short start by Kyle Lohse and getting a win for reliever Lance Lynn.
After getting past Detroit slugger Miguel Cabrera in the AL championship series, Rangers manager Ron Washington is now dealing with Pujols.
“Between him and Cabrera you need to outlaw them. They’re just that good,” Washington said. “The guy just got locked in after his first at-bat tonight – two singles. And I thought we had him put away. Next thing you know the ball is up in the third deck.”
And the Rangers’ infield almost erred for the cycle, with first baseman Mike Napoli, second baseman Ian Kinsler and shortstop Elvis Andrus all making miscues. Napoli, playing at first base for the second time in the postseason, made a bad throw home that led to two runs in the fourth, when St. Louis scored four times for a 5-0 lead.
“Why would I have to make a change at first base?” Washington said. “I think any baseball player in the world could have made that bad throw, not just because it was Napoli. We’ll see tomorrow.”
First base umpire Ron Kulpa, who grew up in St. Louis, blew a call on what should have been a double-play grounder, calling Matt Holliday safe despite Napoli grabbing Kinsler’s off-line throw and tagging Holliday’s shoulder. After seeing a replay, Kulpa acknowledged after the game that he made a mistake.
St. Louis allowed Texas to close to 5-3 in the bottom half as Michael Young hit a solo homer and Nelson Cruz a two-run drive to chase Lohse. The Cardinals opened an 8-3 advantage in the fifth, but the Rangers closed to 8-6 in the bottom of the inning and had the bases loaded when Kinsler hit an inning-ending popup.
Texas is 4 for 16 with runners in scoring position, and Josh Hamilton is wincing. The reigning AL MVP went 1 for 5 and dropped to 1 for 11 (.083) in the Series, although he stopped an 0-for-18 Series skid dating to last year with a fifth-inning single.
Hamilton, who said before the game his groin injury may be a sports hernia, is homerless in 53 at-bats during this year’s postseason.
Now a lot of the pressure falls on Derek Holland, who starts Game 4 for the Rangers on Sunday night, with Edwin Jackson going for the Cardinals. Thirty-six of 54 teams that won Game 3 to take a 2-1 Series lead have gone on to the title, including 10 of the last 11.
“It doesn’t matter to me how many runs they scored. A win’s a win, a loss is a loss,” Young said. “It could have been the same exact score as the first two games. So we’ll come back ready to win tomorrow, even up the series.”
NOTES: St. Louis has scored first in 10 consecutive games, one shy of the postseason record set by Detroit from 1972-84. … Dallas Mavericks star Dirk Nowitzki, wearing a blue No. 41 Texas Rangers jersey, threw the ceremonial first pitch to Young. … Baseball and Fox abandoned their one-year experiment with an earlier Saturday night start, beginning at 8:06 p.m. EDT instead of 7 p.m. Texas’ 4-2 win over San Francisco in Game 3 last year, the earliest-starting Series game since 1987, drew a 6.7 rating and 13 share, the second-lowest ever for a Series game, ahead of only the rain-delayed Game 3 between Philadelphia and Tampa Bay in 2008, which drew a 6.1. … Adrian Beltre had four hits and is batting .538 (7 for 13) in the Series. … The fourth and fifth innings alone dragged on for 1 hour, 22 minutes. The teams combined for a Series-record 17 runs in the middle three innings, six more than the previous mark, and the 23 runs overall were the third-most in a Series game, trailing Toronto’s 15-14 victory over Philadelphia in 1993 and Florida’s 14-11 win over Cleveland in 1997.
© 2011 The Associated Press