Pujols out to end NL's All-Star drought
Off bench, first baseman tries to end American League's reign
SAN FRANCISCO -- Albert Pujols' baseball checklist grows smaller every year. The Cardinals slugger chalks up one accomplishment after another in the "completed" category as he makes his way through a magnificent career.
On Tuesday, he'll have another chance to mark off one of those rare remaining pieces of unfinished business. Pujols has never walked off the field a winner in the All-Star Game, despite participating in five of his previous six big-league seasons. The National League hasn't won the Midsummer Classic since 1996, when Pujols was 16 years old.
"You want to have fun in this game, and obviously that's why everybody's here, trying to have fun," Pujols said on Monday morning. "But as a professional, you know you need to play a game. And we're going to try to do the best that we can to hopefully win this game and stop this bleeding with the American League."
It will only be Pujols' second time coming off the bench in the All-Star Game. He was elected as a starter in three of his previous trips, and in 2005, he served as the NL's designated hitter in Detroit. This time, he's one of four first basemen on the roster, with Milwaukee's Prince Fielder the starter.
That means that NL manager Tony La Russa -- who of course also happens to be Pujols' manager in St. Louis -- has one terrifying pinch-hitter on his bench. La Russa is sure to choose carefully when it comes time to find an at-bat for Pujols.
"You have an All-Star team on the field, and you have an All-Star team on the bench," Pujols said. "Any guys that are sitting on the bench can come up with big hits -- not necessarily [just] myself. But I'll be ready."
In Pujols' previous trip as a non-starter, he had quite an unusual experience. At the time, he was a third baseman, and he had been drafted as a shortstop. So when he was put at second base in the 2001 All-Star Game in Seattle, it wasn't quite as jarring as it seems now.
Even so, Pujols said he doesn't expect a similar assignment this time around.
"Throw me anywhere," he said. "Just don't give me a ball and tell me to pitch. If you need catching for a couple of innings, I'll be behind there. I probably won't do a great job, but I'm going to try to do my best."
Pujols surely won't catch on Tuesday, nor will he play the middle infield. His assignment will be to hit, something he's done well in the All-Star Game -- and everywhere else. Pujols is 4-for-11 in All-Star competition. But he's still chasing that elusive victory.
"Obviously, the National League has been struggling the last eight or nine years, and hopefully it's time to turn it around," he said. "We have a really good team this year. I like our chances.
"We have some power hitters. We have some speed. We have some great defense. But you look at the other side, they have a real good team there. This is an All-Star Game. You're talking about the best players in the game who are going to take the field tomorrow."
Matthew Leach is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.