Ron Cook: Pujols has a way of spoiling day for Pirates

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So how was your day yesterday?

Unless you won the lottery, I'm guessing it wasn't as good as the one enjoyed by the downtown cabbie, who, after a long night on the job, thought he was picking up just another fare at the Westin Convention Center Hotel and wound up with the best player in baseball in his back seat.

Talk about a hack's dream, especially one who knows the game inside out.

"[He] tells me, 'You liking hit in this park, huh?' " Albert Pujols said, fairly giggling.

PNC Park.

Pujols doesn't like hitting there. He absolutely loves it.

Pujols was back at it again yesterday, doing his part to spoil the Pirates' home opener by playing a huge role in the St. Louis Cardinals' 3-0 win. He singled in the first inning, doubled and scored the game's first run in the fourth and was intentionally walked with a man on second in the eighth. That walk was the right call by Pirates manager Jim Tracy -- a smart rule of baseball is never to pitch to Pujols when you don't have to -- but it turned out all wrong when pinch-hitter Preston Wilson drilled a two-run double moments later.

That Pujols didn't hit a home run was one of two major surprises on this bummer of a day for the chilly Pirates fans.

The taxi driver probably knows the numbers by heart, but we'll pass them on, anyway: Pujols is, almost unbelievably, a .400 career hitter at PNC Park. His 19 home runs there are the most by an opposing player. His 51 RBIs are the most he has in a road park.

"That's the way it goes sometimes," Pujols said, shrugging. "There are some places where you hit better than other places. In Frisco, for instance, I can't hit for crap. Here, I hit good.

"But I don't take it for granted."

The hack helped Pujols with that, if you can believe it. He didn't remind him that he owns Pirates starter Ian Snell. Pujols went into the game 4 for 6 against Snell with four home runs and seven RBIs. Now, he's 6 for 9 against him. That was the day's other major surprise. Snell actually got Pujols out once.

"I don't look at that," Pujols said of his track record against pitchers. "You do that, you maybe start to think, 'I've had success against this guy. I don't have to worry about it.' No. That's not what I do. I think more about what I need to do to prepare myself for the game. That's why the first thing I did here was look at [Snell's] last start [on tape]. That's how I get myself ready."

What Pujols did after the game was even more remarkable. For 20 minutes, he pumped iron in the weight room adjacent to the visitors' clubhouse. Then, he spent another 10 minutes on the floor, doing a variety of crunches with a medicine ball.

It was amazing to see a great player working so hard. Then, the realization hit. The two go hand in hand.

Pujols isn't baseball's best by accident.

"I try to do it four or five times a week," he said of his postgame routine. "I don't do it as hard as I do in the offseason. I just try to maintain. That's what keeps me healthy."

It's unfortunate for the Pirates that Pujols is starting to sizzle even as the weather continues to be frigid for baseball. He started the season by going 1 for 17 before getting two hits, including his first home run, in a win Sunday against the Houston Astros. Now he's on a 4-for-8 roll.

Good luck to young Pirates starter Tom Gorzelanny tonight.

This will be his first start against Pujols and the Cardinals.

Welcome to the big leagues, kid!

Tomorrow afternoon, Paul Maholm gets the ball for the Pirates. You want to know Pujols' numbers against him? Would you believe a .600 average? OK, so it's only 3 for 5 with a double and a home run. Maybe that isn't much of a sample, but it's probably plenty for Maholm.

"It's a freak thing," Cardinals manager Tony La Russa said of Pujols' dazzling stats against the Pirates, including his .371 lifetime average against them. "But pull the book out. I don't know if there's any place where you can get him out. He's just a really good hitter anyplace against anybody."

That's not exactly a breaking news story, at least not to one hard-working local citizen.

I guarantee you, the cabbie could have told you that.



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