Commentary

Matchup to watch: Pujols vs. Halladay

Players name other pitchers besides Jays ace, but no hitter other than Cards slugger

Originally Published: June 19, 2009
By Tim Kurkjian | ESPN The Magazine

This weekend, like every weekend in the major leagues, will feature great batter-pitcher matchups, confrontations that define the one-on-one nature of the game.

We'll see Roy Oswalt against Joe Mauer, Johan Santana versus Evan Longoria, Cliff Lee versus Derrek Lee, Josh Beckett versus Chipper Jones and anyone against Albert Pujols; Sunday, Gil Meche gets him.

[+] EnlargeAlbert Pujols
Bob Stanton/Icon SMIAlbert Pujols has never hit below .314 or had fewer than 32 homers and 103 RBIs in a single season.

So we asked 10 current players, and one former player, to name the best batter-pitcher matchup in the game, the one -- if they were clicking from game-to-game at home -- they would immediately stop to watch. The results were surprising only because of their unanimity.

Orioles first baseman Aubrey Huff: "Roy Halladay against Pujols, best against the best. Halladay is as good as I've seen other than Pedro [Martinez] in his heyday. He's not 96-97 [mph], he's not overpowering, but he's got that cutter, that sinker. He hits his spots and he never makes a mistake. He'll throw that cutter in, then throws a sinker away on the black. It's not fair.

"Albert … I'd just like to get inside of his head and know what he's thinking, what he's feeling. I saw he went 0-for-14 recently, then came out of it with two home runs. His slump lasts three days; mine lasts two weeks or three weeks. He adjusts pitch to pitch better than anyone."

Mets outfielder Ryan Church: "Mariano Rivera against Pujols. I love watching Albert hit. I don't pay attention all the time in right field, but when he comes up, I really pay attention. Pitch to pitch, he never changes, he's always the same. I wonder, 'Dude, don't you ever strike out?' Then he rattles a ball off the fence. I think, 'Does he ever make an out?'

"I just faced Rivera the other day for the first time. He throws one pitch [a cutter], you know it is coming and you can't hit it. I asked him the next day, 'How the hell do you do that? How do you hit that?' He threw me cutter in, then he went away, then he came back in, and I struck out. It was great to finally get in there and finally see it. It was great, and it sucked."

Marlins catcher John Baker: "Halladay against Pujols, 1-0 game, bases loaded, two outs, bottom of the ninth. I'd watch that one. The last time I called everyone I know and told them to watch an at-bat was Pujols against Brad Lidge in the playoffs [in 2005]. It's a pitcher who can do whatever he wants with a baseball against a guy who looks like the older, great player in the neighborhood playing wiffleball against the younger kids. Albert is the one guy in the game who you can't say, 'Generally, this is how you get him out.' He gets a hit every time he gets what he's looking for. When he got out of that 'horrible' 0-for-14, I think he took it out on the side of my head. I'd love to see him and Halladay."

Hall of Fame pitcher Jim Palmer: "It would be Halladay against anyone; that's how good he is. I saw [Rangers pitching coach] Mike Maddux the other day. He ran up to me and said, 'I just saw Halladay for the first time! He's unbelievable!' As for Pujols, well, I'll never forget his first spring training. Mark McGwire came up to me and said, "I can't wait for you to see this Pujols kid. He sees everything. He pays attention. He will be great.'"

Mets outfielder Gary Sheffield: "Josh Beckett against Pujols. That's power against power; I love that. Albert's power isn't just a home run. It might be a game-winning hit, but it's going to make a difference. Albert is the best hitter I've ever seen because he has done it from day one. No one has had that consistency on his level. And he doesn't just hit .300; he hits .350.

"Beckett is going to challenge you because he has that type of ego. He is not going to back down. A lot of times he gets burned because of it, but more often, he burns the hitter."

Orioles pitcher George Sherrill: "Halladay against Pujols. Halladay has so many pitches, and he throws so many strikes. He throws a slider, a cutter, a sinker and a fastball that stays up. And Albert -- it's like anything he touches, he hits hard. I'd love to see that matchup."

Mets catcher Brian Schneider: "Halladay against Pujols. With Albert, you're just trying to limit the damage. You just want to let him beat you in the right way, without an extra-base hit. But that's so hard. Halladay has so many options. He can run that front-door slider at you, then go cutter in, or use that big curveball or his changeup. He doesn't just have five pitches, he has five plus pitches. Johan [Santana] has two great pitches. Halladay goes off you. If you take something, he goes to something else, another plus pitch."

Giants infielder Rich Aurilia: "Halladay against Pujols. I've only had three or four at-bats against Halladay, but I know he isn't going to back down from anyone. And he has four pitches, all of them above average. Albert, especially now that he's older, is more dangerous than ever because he will take his walks when, in the past, he wasn't as willing to do that. Now there's not a hitter in the game that people pitch around more than Albert because they don't want him to beat them. These are two polished, professional guys. As a hitter, if I hit .270 in a matchup like this, I'd be happy. You're not going to hit .300, .320."

Mets pitcher Tim Redding: "Justin Verlander against Pujols. Verlander walked him intentionally twice in the same game and he had an ERA under 1.00 in his last nine starts. Verlander throws 97-99 mph with a curveball at 83. But Albert is able to eliminate one of them. He's almost like [Barry] Bonds was five years ago: He doesn't get much to hit, and never swings at a bad pitch. When he swings at the pitch he's looking at, he hits it really hard."

Rays reliever Joe Nelson: "Zack Greinke against Albert Pujols. That's strength against strength. Albert has such discipline in the strike zone. He's not going to chase, and if he does, you have really fooled him, which never happens. There is so little movement in his swing. You try to beat him in, and he's so fast. You try to go soft away, and he's so good at staying back. I've only faced him a few times when he had, like, five hits in the game, and didn't need to go 7-for-7. I just like to watch him hit. Most hitters with majestic swings are left-handed. I loved watching Barry [Bonds] hit. I love watching [Ken] Griffey [Jr.] hit. Albert's swing is so fluid in the zone. I'm glad I'm pitching in the AL East.

"Greinke is very similar to John Smoltz in his prime. Smoltz threw 95-96 [mph] with a 90 mph slider and a split at 89. All three of those pitches were the best in the game. Greinke is the same. He throws that slow curveball in the 60s, he has a hard slider in the upper 80s, a great changeup and he can blow away anyone in the game with a fastball."

I used to tell [Pedro Martinez] that if I was a general manager, and Roy [Halladay] was a free agent, I'd go over to his house, I'd give him a contract, I'd tell him to fill in a number and I'll be happy.

-- Mets infielder Alex Cora

Mets infielder Alex Cora: "Halladay against Pujols. He is such a complete pitcher. I've seen him give up four runs to us, then he ends up going nine. He has so many pitches. If the cutter isn't working, he goes with the changeup. If the changeup isn't working, he goes with the breaking ball. If that's not working, he makes something up. I used to tell Petey [Pedro Martinez] that if I was a general manager, and Roy was a free agent, I'd go over to his house, I'd give him a contract, I'd tell him to fill in a number and I'll be happy.

"Albert is a combination of power and average. With all due respect to Luddy [Ryan Ludwick] and [Rick] Ankiel, but Albert is basically all by himself. He's so impressive. He hits a ball 400 feet, then Tony [La Russa] puts on the hit-and-run, and Albert goes the other way."

Eleven players were asked; 11 players named Pujols as the hitter.

Eleven players were asked; seven named Halladay against Pujols.

Pujols is 0-for-4 lifetime against Halladay. They haven't faced each other since 2005. Let's hope we get to see that confrontation again.

Tim Kurkjian is a senior writer for ESPN The Magazine. His book "Is This a Great Game, or What?" was published by St. Martin's Press and became available in paperback in May 2008. Click here to order a copy.

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