Pujols led Cards with 9 RBI in NLCS

Updated: October 22, 2004, 11:25 AM ET
Associated Press

ST. LOUIS -- At last, Albert Pujols is second to no one.

Runnerup in National League Most Valuable Player voting the last two seasons, Pujols was an obvious choice as MVP of the NL Championship Series after the St. Louis Cardinals' clinching 5-2 Game 7 victory Thursday night over the Houston Astros.

Albert Pujols

"It's every little boy's dream," Pujols said. "I'm glad to have won the MVP, but that trophy is going to stay right in this room. Because everybody here is MVP."

Pujols tied the game with an RBI double that punctured the mystique of 42-year-old Astros ace Roger Clemens in the sixth inning, and scored the eventual winning run when Scott Rolen drove the next pitch over the left-field wall.

Clemens was actually more worried about Rolen. He said there was no notion of pitching around Pujols.

"No, no, not at all," Clemens said. "At that point, I thought Rolen was taking better swings."

The Rocket was ahead 1-2 in the count when Pujols drove a fastball down the left-field line to score Roger Cedeno with the tying run.

The hitters surrounding Pujols makes the Cardinals' No. 3 batter even more dangerous. Rolen, the cleanup hitter, was second in the NL with 124 RBI, and Larry Walker, the No. 2 hitter, is a three-time batting champion.

"As far as Albert Pujols is concerned, he's a terrific hitter," Astros manager Phil Garner said. "What makes the lineup so tough is there's other guys in the lineup that can beat you, too."

The Cardinals, who won a major league-best 105 games this year and now will play in their first World Series in 17 years, were used to such clutch work from Pujols.

He hit .500 (14-for-28) in the NLCS with four homers and a team-leading nine RBI.

In Game 6, he had a homer, double and single, scored three times and drove in two runs to help the Cardinals right themselves after losing three straight in Houston.

He also had three hits and three RBI in Game 4, including a two-run homer, and was 3-for-4 with another homer in Game 2. He tacked on a single for good measure in the eighth inning of the decisive Game 7.

It was nothing unusual for the 2001 NL rookie of the year and 2003 NL batting champion.

Year after year, Pujols has put up gaudy numbers. He's the third player to reach 500 RBI in his first four seasons, joining Hall of Famers Joe DiMaggio and Ted Williams, and he's the first player to start his career with four consecutive 30-homer seasons.

In spring training he became the highest-paid player in franchise history with a seven-year, $100 million contract, and he went on to hit .331 with 46 homers and 123 RBI.

"It was a typical case of a guy that got a big contract and hasn't let up at all," general manager Walt Jocketty said. "He's trying to find ways to get better."

Copyright 2004 by The Associated Press