Completing his first decade as the on-field leader of the St. Louis Cardinals, first baseman Albert Pujols racked up a series of milestones during 2010.
Fast start. As the Cardinals got out of the gate quickly with a 15-8 record in April, not surprisingly, so did Pujols. He was voted MLB’s Clutch Performer for the first month, batting .345 with team-leading seven home runs and 19 RBI.
Home run trifecta. Pujols logged the fourth three-home run game of his career at Chicago on May 30. All four of Pujols’ three-home run contests have been against NL Central opponents and he has accomplished the feat twice at Wrigley Field.
.900 average in All-Star berths. Pujols was selected to his eighth consecutive (and ninth overall) National League All-Star team and received the most votes for the second consecutive season.
Three-run win streak finally broken. Pujols amassed an amazing streak during which his team won every game in which he scored at least three runs. Heading into August 26, the Cardinals were 55-0 when Pujols scored three runs or more in a game over his career. That night, Pujols crossed the plate three times, but the Cardinals lost 11-10 in 13 innings in Washington. It was still a big night, however…
400+ career home runs. Pujols clubbed his 400th career home run that same evening, August 26, off Jordan Zimmermann of the Nationals. Albert finished the season with 408 home runs, ranking 45th all-time and the most ever by a player in his first 10 major league seasons.
August star. Pujols was voted NL Player of the Month on the strength of his .379 batting average, 11 home runs and 23 RBI. Despite that, the team went just 11-15 during August and had fallen seven games out of first place as September began.
Passes Musial in multi-home run games. On September 12 at Atlanta, Pujols had his 38th multi-home run game, tying Hall of Famer Stan Musial for the Cardinals franchise record. Pujols added multi-home run game number 39 at Pittsburgh on September 23 to finish the season as the club’s all-time leader.
Clutchiest Cardinal. Pujols led MLB with 21 game-winning RBI in 2010. His 190 game-winning RBI since his 2001 debut are the most during that time and ranks in a tie for 16th all-time (with Sammy Sosa) since the category was first tracked in 1974.
Walk on by. With 103 bases on balls in 2010, Pujols ranked second in the NL. He became the first Cardinals player in history to record 100 or more in three consecutive seasons and tied Stan Musial for overall 100 walk seasons with three.
Walk, don’t hit. Of those 103 free passes, 38 of them were intentional, most in the Major Leagues. Pujols’ individual total surpassed the team counts for 17 Major League clubs. He currently ranks second among active players with 235 intentional walks.
Top stealer. Pujols led the 2010 Cardinals with 14 stolen bases. That ranked second among MLB first basemen after NL MVP Joey Votto of Cincinnati with 16.
Gold Glove again. Pujols picked up his second Gold Glove Award (2006) after pacing NL first basemen in nearly every defensive category. He had the league’s top marks in fielding percentage (.998), total chances (1619), assists (157), putouts (1458) and double plays (146). He led the Cardinals with 20 defensive “gems” in 2010 and committed a career-low four errors. Despite not becoming the team’s everyday first baseman until 2004, Pujols owns a franchise record 987 career assists at first base.
Team batting race: Matt Holliday and Pujols finished tied (.312) for the team lead in batting, tying for fifth in the NL. Pujols has either led or shared the team lead in batting in each of his first 10 seasons, establishing a franchise record for consecutive seasons doing so. The last Cardinal other then Pujols to lead the team in batting was Fernando Vina (.300) in 2000.
Team Triple Crown: Pujols (.312 average – 42 home runs – 118 RBI) put together his sixth-straight “team” Triple Crown and his ninth in 10 seasons. Pujols’ only miss was in 2004 when Scott Rolen barely edged him in RBI, 124-123.
Consistent excellence. Pujols batted at least .300 with 30 or more home runs and at least 100 RBI for the 10th consecutive season, adding to his own existing Major League record.
2010 NL home run and RBI leader. Pujols led the NL in home runs for the second straight season and he paced the league in RBI for the first time in his career. He joined Johnny Mize (1939-40) and his current hitting coach Mark McGwire (1998-99) as the only Cardinals to lead the league in homers in consecutive seasons. Pujols is the first Cardinal since McGwire in 1999 to top the league in RBI.
Top ten in most categories. In addition to the categories mentioned above, Pujols ranked among NL leaders in hits (fifth, 183), total bases (second, 350), doubles (eighth, 39), on-base percentage (second, .414) and slugging (third, .596).
Sixth Silver Slugger Award. Pujols received his club-record sixth Silver Slugger Award and his third-straight (2008-10). His five previous Silver Slugger selections came in 2001 (third base), 2003 (outfield), and in 2004, 2008-09 at first base.
Active player leadership. Pujols finished the season with a career batting average of .331 (1,900 hits), a .426 on base percentage and .624 slugging mark, the leader among active MLB players in all three categories.
Number one and two in merchandising, too. In a reminder of Pujols’ power off the field, the Cardinals disclosed the top selling jersey in the stadium Team Store in 2010 was the replica Pujols jersey with the number two seller being the youth replica Pujols jersey. The Matt Holliday replica jersey rounded out the top three.
The big disappointments. From a team perspective, Pujols’ club missed the playoffs for the third time in four years. Individually, he fell short of his fourth National League Most Valuable Player award and third straight. Pujols received just one of 32 possible first place votes despite playoff-bound Votto having fewer doubles, home runs, runs scored and RBI.
The 800-pound elephant. The biggest Pujols story of all is the one with an ending yet to be written. His current contract concludes with the 2011 season. While both Pujols and the Cardinals have stated publicly they want to remain together for the duration of the first baseman’s career, the contract details have not been concluded.
If/when such a deal is done, it will surely be the largest ever for St. Louis. The only point of suspense is whether or not it will also become the biggest contract in the history of Major League Baseball. If Pujols instead opts for free agency, it would be quite possible, though many believe the situation will not reach that point.
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