Pujols says relationship intact with La Russa

ST. LOUIS -- Albert Pujols wants to make this absolutely
clear: He is not feuding with Tony La Russa.

"People want to start World War III with me and Tony, and I
think they're picking the wrong person," the St. Louis slugger
said Thursday during a workout. "I've got so much respect for
Tony, and he's got so much respect for me."

Pujols was the only player from the defending World Series
champion Cardinals to be picked for the All-Star game. He also was
the only non-pitcher that La Russa, the NL manager, did not use in
a 5-4 loss Tuesday night.

La Russa said he saved Pujols in case of extra innings and vowed
that the relationship will "stand the test of time."

"It wasn't a problem, there isn't a problem," La Russa said.
"It's been real clear about how I feel about Albert. Nothing ever
changes that. Nothing ever will."

Pujols was upset after being left on the bench _ "If I wasn't
expecting to play, I wouldn't have come up here," he said right
after the game in San Francisco.

Two days later, back in St. Louis, Pujols sounded more calm.

"Was I disappointed because I didn't get in the game? Of
course, because I'm a competitor," he said. "Does that make it a
big deal? No, it wasn't a big deal to me, but I guess it was a
pretty big deal to everybody else in the country."

Pujols and La Russa had not talked before the workout, but
Pujols expected a conversation and an explanation soon.

"People can talk and waste their saliva, I guess, because
they're not going to get me angry or Tony angry," Pujols said.
"We'll sit down and talk. I'm looking forward to seeing why he
says he didn't put me in the game."

Last October, La Russa and Cardinals third baseman Scott Rolen
had an icy relationship. La Russa benched the banged-up Rolen in
the postseason, and they didn't talk during the winter.

Pujols could merely watch as Philadelphia's Aaron Rowand flied
out with the bases loaded to end the All-Star game. La Russa said
he'd have loved to have called on Pujols, but had to guard against
a position player being injured if the game went to extra innings.

"Because you manage in the moment, yeah, I wish I sent him out
there," La Russa said. "But the game would have either ended
there or ended later if somebody got hurt, and there's a way to fix

Since the 2002 game ended in an extra-innings tie, managers have
tended to hold a hitter back just in case. La Russa said if he ran
out of position players he'd rather forfeit than use a pitcher, and
called for Major League Baseball to alter rules to allow for more

La Russa is just as cautious in regular-season games, almost
always saving his backup catcher in case of injury.

Pujols is batting .310 with 16 homers and 52 RBIs despite being
mired in a career-worst home run slump of 22 games and 74 at-bats.

The 2005 NL MVP anticipated a chance in the ninth inning Tuesday
night, stretching and putting heat on his back and hamstrings, but
said he understood when La Russa stuck with Rowand.

Pujols added if somebody had to be left out, he was glad it was
him, rather than Rowand or J.J. Hardy of the Brewers, both
first-time All-Stars.

"The fans, they obviously want to see me in that situation,"
Pujols said. "But you have too many great hitters. Rowand, he's
having a great year and I was pulling for him to come through."

Pujols said the resulting controversy has been an embarrassing
distraction for a team trying to rally in the second half.

The Cardinals, who won their first World Series in 24 years last
fall, are 40-45 and 7 games behind the Brewers in the NL Central
heading into a 10-game trip that begins Friday with the first of
three games in Philadelphia, followed by three in Miami and four in