Albert Pujols proved his mortality when he stubbed his toe in Monday evening’s MLB Home Run Derby.
The hometown favorite had to participate in a “bat off” just to make it past the first round. In an event that seemed to lack the drama and entertainment value of recent years’ competitions, the 2009 event was eventually won by Milwaukee’s Prince Fielder over Texas’ Nelson Cruz.
Pujols wasn’t involved in the finals, having been eliminated in the second round.
The reason? Though some may suggest ESPN and national attention as well as local pressure, I suspect another factor did Pujols in. Though Albert would never admit it, I think he may have lost due to unfamiliarity with his batting practice pitcher.
Regular Cardinals batting practice pitcher Dave McKay, who has pitched to Pujols pretty much every day for the last nine seasons, was unavailable for Home Run Derby duty this year so Pujols invited Pittsburgh Pirates bullpen coach Luis Dorante to do the honors instead.
Dorante was the manager of a Dominican Winter League club for which Pujols had planned to play in the past before backing out due to injury. Pujols watched Dorante throw batting practice at a recent Cards-Bucs series and popped the question, “Would Dorante pitch to him in the Home Run Derby?”
Nothing against Dorante. It wasn’t his fault that Pujols struggled. He didn’t swing the bat for Albert. Yet it was very clear to me watching that the hometown slugger was uneasy with the offerings presented to him.
Even before ESPN commentator Joe Morgan noted it during the second round, I was repeating over and over that Dorante’s pitches to Pujols seemed too high, too far up in the zone. Obviously uncomfortable with the offerings, Pujols seemed to lay off a majority of them and he appeared to have trouble squaring up on the ones he did go after.
While the winner of an All-Star exhibition has no lasting meaning, it seemed a missed opportunity in that Pujols was not in the best position to excel in the spotlight.