Albert Pujols tallies a record 14 total bases, Cardinals win 16-7 in World Series Game 3

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Cardinals first baseman Albert Pujols drew heavy amounts of criticism for leaving the Busch Stadium clubhouse before talking to the media following Thursday’s Game 2 loss. A few national baseball writers even questioned his leadership, given that younger players like Jason Motte, Jon Jay and Allen Craig were left to handle all of the heat.

Let’s go ahead and toss that narrative aside. It never really made much sense in the first place.

Pujols put together one of the greatest single-game performances in World Series history during Saturday night’s 16-7 Game 3 trouncing of the Rangers, finishing 5-for-6 with three home runs, six RBI and four runs scored. He tallied 14 total bases, breaking a longstanding Fall Classic record and vaulting himself into the elite rung of postseason performers.

Babe Ruth. Reggie Jackson. Albert Pujols.

Those are the only three men in the history of baseball to launch three home runs in a World Series game.

Leadership — true leadership — is something that has to be built and then cultivated through consistent, physical examples. It’s never been established through words alone, nor has it ever been betrayed by a single, rare mistake. What Pujols did Thursday night in St. Louis was wrong. Answering questions is part of being a professional. But to suggest that the other players in the Cardinals’ dugout somehow lost faith or respect in baseball’s greatest right-handed slugger was a stretch from the start. A failed assumption.

Pujols left no doubt on Saturday night in Arlington, Texas, with those scribes who questioned him looking on in awe. He answered the call and then some. And now his Cardinals hold an improbable 2-1 lead in the seven-game Fall Classic. Have we mentioned, already, that this series has the feel of an instant classic?

Mariners sign Ichiro to a minor league deal

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USA Today’s Bob Nightengale reports that the Mariners will sign Ichiro Suzuki to a minor-league deal. If he makes the roster he’ll make $750,000. At least until he retires.

I say that because it seems quite clear that the idea here, telegraphed since last season, is to activate Ichiro for the Mariners’ series against the Oakland Athletics in Tokyo on March 20-21 and for hoopla surrounding it all. The Mariners and A’s will have a 28-man roster for that series, which is officially part of the regular season schedule, but it will be pared back down to 25 once games begin in the United States.

Suzuki, 45, hit .205/.255/.205 in 47 plate appearances through May 2 last season, at which point he agreed to be deactivated to join the Mariners’ front office. Many assumed Ichiro would announce his retirement later that season or during the offseason, but the Japan Series soon crystalized as an obvious way for him to offer his final farewell to both his American and his Japanese fans.

Unless of course he goes 6-10 with three doubles in that series, at which point everyone will be tempted to keep him on the roster past Japan. Which, given the Mariners’ rebuild and likely poor performance this coming season, wouldn’t exactly be hurting anyone, would it?