Here in 2009, St. Louis Cardinals first baseman Albert Pujols is competing for another National League batting title to go along with his 2003 crown. His .321 average places him fourth in the race, but Pujols has a large gap to close, currently trailing leader Hanley Ramirez of Florida by 37 points.
Despite being on base four times Wednesday night, Pujols actually lost ground to the Marlins’ shortstop.
How could that be, you ask?
In a statistical oddity, although Pujols reached base four times, each was accomplished without the benefit of a hit. He walked three times, none obviously intentional, and was hit by a pitch. In the other plate appearance, his only official at-bat, Pujols struck out in the sixth inning. He finished the night 0-for-1.
I would be remiss if I did not note that Pujols’ final plate appearance was the key to the game. His ninth-inning walk against Jonathan Broxton led to him stealing second (pictured), reaching third on a throwing error and scoring on a Matt Holliday sacrifice fly.*
That gave the Cardinals a 3-2 win and a two-games-to-one series edge over the home Los Angeles Dodgers. The accomplishment against a playoff-caliber opponent added to the excitement.
With the able assistance of Tom Orf, we can put Pujols’ strange evening into some historical context.
Since at least 1954, no Cardinals player has ever reached base five times in a game without having a hit, but Pujols’ feat of four has been accomplished 35 times in the last 55 years.
Oddly, the Cardinals had eight such games in Tony La Russa’s first three years as manager, from 1996 through 1998, including five during the third season of the three. Yet it has taken the 11 years since for the team to log eight more four-on-base-with-no-hit games.
Not surprisingly, Pujols has the last four, including two this season, and the only ones by a Cardinals hitter since the first two weeks of the 2003 season. Pujols is also only one of four to also steal a base. The others were Ozzie Smith in 1984, Joe Cunningham in 1958 and Stan Musial in 1954.
Cardinals on base four times without a hit, 1954-2009
|Andy Van Slyke||4/20/1985||PIT||W||4-3||4||0||1||0||0||3||4||0||0||1||0||0||0||0||0||1|
* Bonus obscure factoid: Prior to Wednesday, the Cardinals’ most recent game-winning sacrifice fly in the team’s final inning at-bat was on April 10, 2007 in Pittsburgh by Skip Schumaker in a 3-2 win.
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