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This baseball season has been full of reminders of what steroids have wrought on the game of baseball. From the Alex Rodriguez admission to the Manny Ramirez suspension to the Raul Ibanez speculation, it's been hard to escape the shadow that performance enhancing drugs have cast over the league.
And, yet, those of us who love baseball still want to believe in the game the same way we did when we were young and awed by the feats of men who seemed like giants. Men like Albert Pujols, who told us all to believe in him on a Sports Illustrated cover in March. All too often, those kinds of boasts are followed by unhappy truths that make you feel like a fool for believing an athlete was anything but human in the first place.
After opening the third inning with a fly out, Pujols returned to the Cardinals clubhouse to review video. There he predicted to assistant hitting coach Mike Aldrete that his next at-bat would ricochet off the yet-to-open Royals Hall of Fame behind the visitors bullpen in left field. "He didn't say he might hit the Hall of Fame. He said he would hit the Hall of Fame," Aldrete recalled.
Pujols returned in the fourth inning against Royals starting pitcher Gil Meche with the bases loaded and one out in a 4-4 game. Pujols and Meche reached a full count. By then Meche had shown Pujols every pitch in his repertoire except a change-up. When Meche finally threw the pitch, Pujols swatted it some 423 feet off a Hall of Fame window.
Read the entire game story from the St. Louis Post-Dispatch for more from his teammates and manager Tony La Russa, and notice that none of them seemed all that surprised by what Pujols was able to do on Sunday. They almost expected it, in fact, which is a sign that there's something pretty spectacular going on here.
Pujols is on pace for the best year of his career, and currently leads the National League in runs, RBI, home runs, OPS and, at ninth in batting average, we may have a run at a triple crown. He could finish with 60+ home runs and more than 160 RBI, numbers that the Babe would be proud of.
There's one final parallel between Ruth and Pujols that bears mentioning. While baseball struggled in the aftermath of the Black Sox scandal in the 1919 World Series, Ruth emerged to change the storyline into a more positive one. Could Pujols do the same thing? It seems impossible, given the justifiable cynicism and pessimism that many of baseball's biggest stars birthed with their drug use. But, again, for those of us who want to believe, Pujols is giving us a lot of ammunition.
It's more than unfair to pin the hopes of clean baseball on the shoulders of Pujols, but, as the SI article above made clear, he doesn't mind carrying the burden. That's a good thing, because it becomes less avoidable as he continues to burnish his legend with every passing day.