Albert Pujols: 10 Career-Defining Moments

Alex RostowskyContributor IOctober 31, 2011

Albert Pujols: 10 Career-Defining Moments

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    Since coming into the league in 2001, Albert Pujols has undoubtedly been the most consistent and overall greatest player in the game of baseball. 

    His numbers are legendary and do the talking for themselves. His awards are countless and are being racked up by the dozens. His legend grows by the day. 

    What Albert Pujols means to the game of baseball cannot be described in words. When the MLB was trying to stop the bleeding after all the steroid allegations came out this past decade, Pujols gave fans a reason to believe in the game once again. 

    Going into the 2011 offseason, Pujols' future destination is unknown. Though he will most likely stay in St. Louis, Pujols will continue to be the best player in the game no matter where he goes. 

    Here are 10 moments that have defined the greatness of Albert Pujols thus far. 

The Rookie Year

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    Coming into the league as the 402nd draft pick in 1999, no one really knew what to expect of Pujols. After seizing an opportunity to take over for injured players on the Cardinals roster, Pujols never turned back. 

    His first season started one of the most amazing streaks in baseball history. After batting .329 with 37 home runs and 130 RBI (National League rookie record), Pujols was named National League Rookie of the Year unanimously. 

    This was the first of 11 straight seasons in which Pujols would hit at least .299 with over 30 HR and 99 RBI. (2011 was the first time in his career where he didn't hit .300 or have 100 RBI, falling just one short of both marks.) 

    Pujols took the league by storm his rookie year and set the tone for the greatness he would have in his major league career. 

The Move to First

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    After spending his first two seasons at third and in left and right field, Pujols was made the everyday first baseman in 2003. 

    The switch would be an important one for Pujols, who finally found the place on the field where he belonged. During his first season at first, Pujols further solidified himself as one of the best hitters in the game. 

    He had a 30-game hitting streak and finished the year batting .359 with 43 HR and 124 RBI. He won his first batting title and led the National League in runs, hits, doubles, extra base hits and total bases. 

    Since moving from the outfield, Pujols has been one of the most consistent fielders at first base. He won two Gold Glove awards in 2006 and 2010. He is likely to rack up a few more before his playing days are done. 

The Bomb

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    2005, like every year, was a big one for Pujols. He won his first ever National League MVP and had already hit his 200th home run in just his fifth major league season. 

    The 2005 NLCS featured a re-match of the previous season's edition. The Cardinals had defeated the Astros the 2004 NLCS before losing to the Red Sox in the World Series. 

    This time, the Astros jumped to a 3-1 lead in the series. Brad Lidge looked to close it out with Pujols at the plate in the 9th inning of Game 5. With two on and two out, Pujols blasted one of the most majestic shots you'll ever see anyone hit.

    The home run erased a two-run deficit and sent the series back to St. Louis, where the Astros would finish off the Cardinals. It was said that the shot only went 412 feet, but I have a feeling it would have easily topped 500 without all the obstructions. 

    Pujols showed with this homer that he is clutch and dangerous in any situation. It's times like these that make him the scariest offensive player in the game. 

The First Ring

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    In 2006, Pujols further cemented his legend by doing what elite players do: winning a championship. 

    After an underwhelming regular season, the Cardinals went into the playoffs as NL Central Champions boasting an 83-79 record. St. Louis beat San Diego in the NLDS for the second year in a row. They then took down the Mets in seven games, capturing the NL title in Queens. 

    In the World Series, the Cardinals played the Tigers, who were the hottest team in the playoffs. St. Louis capitalized on several Detroit blunders on defense, winning the series in five games. 

    Pujols' squad completed a story-book ending for their first year at the new Busch Stadium. Albert christened the stadium with a home run during its Opening Day on April 10. 

    He has hit 109 more home runs at Busch Stadium, holding the record for the young park. 

Maintaining Greatness in 2008

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    After winning the World Series in 2006 and putting up huge numbers offensively in 2007, Pujols was on his way to becoming one of the best players baseball had ever seen. 

    2008 was a season that is very indicative of his career in baseball. He hit .357 with 37 HR and 116 RBI. He was an All-Star, won the Silver Slugger award at first, won his second National League MVP and won the Roberto Clemente Award for greatness on and off the field. 

    One of the best parts of Albert Pujols' game is his integrity. There are many superstars in Major League Baseball, but none do their job as respectably as Pujols does.

    The Roberto Clemente award goes to those who "best exemplify the game of baseball, sportsmanship, community involvement and the individual's contribution to his team."

    Pujols and his wife, Deidre, started the Pujols Family Foundation that helps those with Down syndrome and people with life threatening illnesses, as well as the poverty-stricken in his home country of the Dominican Republic. It is his constant involvement to make his community better that makes Pujols one of the most upstanding citizens in professional sports. 

The Player of the Decade

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    In 2009, after winning a third MVP award and helping the Cardinals capture the NL Central title, Pujols received accolades that defined his greatness as his first decade in the MLB was coming to an end. 

    He was named "player of the decade" by both The Sporting News and Sports Illustrated. These awards were appropriate considering Pujols had won three MVPs and was amongst the league leaders in major offensive categories every year. 

    Pujols had shown in his first nine seasons that he was the best player in the league. His consistency is what made him the player of the decade, seeing as no other big leaguer was able to sustain such offensive prolific-ness for that long. 

    At age 31 with two stellar seasons thus far in this decade, there's no reason to think that Pujols couldn't win the award again. 

Home Run No. 400

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    On Aug. 26, 2010 in Washington, Albert Pujols hit the 400th home run of his career off Jordan Zimmerman of the Nationals

    Being the 47th player to reach the mark, it was the way in which Pujols accomplished the feat that made it unique. 

    Pujols is the first and only player to reach 400 home runs in under 10 seasons of play. Only Alex Rodriguez and Ken Griffey, Jr. got there at younger ages. 

    Babe Ruth, Jim Thome, Harmon Killebrew and Cardinal hitting coach Mark McGwire are the only major leaguers who hit 400 home runs in fewer at bats. Pujols had put himself into very elite company. 

    At age 31 and with 445 home runs, Pujols has a legitimate shot at reclaiming the home run title for legitimate players. My apologies to Barry Bonds. 

Cub Killer

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    One thing Albert Pujols has done consistently in his career, to the joy of Cardinals fans, is single-handedly destroy the Chicago Cubs

    Pujols' 53 home runs against the Cubs are the most against any team in his career. Two of the biggest came in back to back games in June of this year.

    On June 4 at Busch Stadium, Pujols came to bat in the bottom of the 12th, with the game tied at 4-4. He lifted a Jeff Samardzija offering into the seats to win the game for St. Louis.

    The very next day, Pujols approached the plate in similar circumstance. In the bottom of the 10th, with the score tied 2-2, Albert this time got the best of Rodrigo Lopez, walking off the Cubs for the second game in a row.

    Maybe the Cubs were suffering from temporary amnesia. Either way, Pujols' 10th career walk-off home run showed that you might not want to test him with the game on the line.  

2011 World Series, Game 3

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    2011 was an interesting season for Pujols.

    He started off the year by declining to discuss contracts after his deal would expire following the season. Pujols didn't storm out of the gates like he usually does, and finished the season with statistically his worst year in baseball.

    He hit .299 with 38 HR and 99 RBI, which are statistics for most players' career years. Nonetheless, the Cardinals crashed the postseason party and found themselves in the World Series. Pujols was having another solid playoff performance when his game reached new heights on Oct. 22. 

    Pujols joined the likes of Babe Ruth and Reggie Jackson by hitting three home runs against the Texas Rangers in game 3. None of them were cheapies. 

    He finished the game 5-for-6 with two additional singles and six RBI overall. His four runs were scored in the fourth, fifth, sixth and seventh, the first time that has happened in Fall Classic History. He set another World Series record with 14 total bases in the game. 

    Great players come up big on the grandest of stages. Pujols tore the theatre down. 

Solidifying His Legacy

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    After hitting three home runs in Game 3 of the 2011 World Series, Albert Pujols further played an integral role in helping the Cardinals win their second title in six seasons. 

    During an all-time great Game 6 thriller, Pujols came through with hits in the clutch and rounded the bases to score some very important runs. David Freese would channel his inner Pujols and drive in the big runs after Albert reached base. 

    The Cardinals would win in Game 7, giving our generation's best player his second title. Pujols finished another stellar postseason with five home runs and 16 runs batted in. Thirteen of his 24 hits in the playoffs were extra base hits. 

    Performance in the clutch defines how great a professional athlete is. Pujols' play in the postseason has matched his success in the regular season. In 74 career playoff games, Albert is hitting .330 with 18 HR and 54 RBI. His slugging percentage in those games is an astronomical .607. 

    Though the Cardinals looked like they would stay at home in October after trailing the wild-card leading Braves by 10.5 games in late August, they echoed the courage of their leader and fought on to the crown, shocking everyone in the process. 

    Pujols' 2011 season may have been the most trying in his career. Only a player of his stature could turn it into one of his best.