On Sunday in Houston, the St. Louis Cardinals ended their first three-game losing streak of the season with an 8-1 bashing of the Astros. Two recent Memphis Redbirds — Allen Craig and Tyler Greene — drove in seven of the eight Cardinal runs. So it seems like a nice time to check in on a few other Redbirds alumni making news these days in The Show.
• Perhaps the biggest baseball news Sunday was something that had already happened 445 times . . . but not in the regular season since September of last year. Albert Pujols hit his first home run as a Los Angeles Angel, ending the longest homer drought of his career (28 games and 111 at bats this season; 33 and 139 going back to his final regular-season days as a Cardinal). For the Angels, who signed Pujols to a 10-year, $240 million free-agent contract during the offseason, this is ugly math. The most accomplished hitter of this century is now earning $148,148 per game. His home run and RBI totals (1 and 7) are lower than those of his teammate, Mark Trumbo (4 and 12), despite Pujols having 45 more at bats. Trumbo is being paid $3,086 per game.
Is The Pujols Slump merely a news-making adjustment period for the future Hall of Famer? Or is it a flashing red light for Angel (and Pujols) fans that a 32-year-old slugger is at the beginning of the downside of his career? In baseball, even 28 games is a tiny sample size. The guess here is that Pujols will go on seven or eight tears this season and have his stat line packed with the usual fat numbers. But I’ll say this as simply as I can: Hitting a baseball is the hardest thing to do in sports . . . when all distractions are removed. Add the distractions of a huge contract and the move from an iconic (world champion) team, and hitting a baseball for Albert Pujols becomes a proving ground. Proof that he’s worth the contract, and proof that he can hit anywhere, for anyone, anytime. The Pujols story will be fun to follow, even if his Angels remain in the American League West cellar.
• With eight more hits, the Philadelphia Phillies’ Placido Polanco will become just the second former Redbird to pick up 2,000 in the big leagues. (The first was the big guy discussed above.) Polanco played in 99 games for the Redbirds during their two-season stint at Tim McCarver Stadium (1998-99) and hit .279. If anyone tells you they saw 2,000 hits in Polanco’s future back then, they either confused him with J.D. Drew (1,437 career hits and currently without a contract) or spent too much time in the old stadium’s beer garden.
Polanco has played in two All-Star Games and won Gold Gloves at both second base and third base. He has a higher career batting average (.300) than the player St. Louis traded him to Philadelphia for (Scott Rolen, .281). Polanco will never get into the Hall of Fame without a ticket, but he’s been to the postseason with all three franchises for whom he’s played (St. Louis, Detroit, Philadelphia). He’s been a winner, and the kind of baseball player longtime Redbird fans can feel privileged for having seen on his rise to the majors.
• Adam Wainwright won Sunday’s game for the Cardinals, the righty’s finest trip to the mound since returning this season from Tommy John surgery. The win was the 68th of Wainwright’s career against only 38 losses. (Waino was 14-14 for Memphis in 2004 and 2005.) Should Wainwright reach the 100-win mark, he’ll be the second former Redbird to do so. Through Sunday, the Angels’ Dan Haren had a career mark of 108-86. A three-time All-Star, Haren has won at least 15 games for three different teams: Oakland, Arizona, and the Angels. He’s the only former Redbird pitcher to start the major-league All-Star Game (2007) and is 22 strikeouts shy of 1,500 for his career. Haren was the ace for the 2004 Memphis team, when he went 11-4 and led the Pacific Coast League with 150 strikeouts. (And the player St. Louis acquired in dealing Haren to the A’s? Mark Mulder hasn’t thrown a pitch in the big leagues since 2008. Ouch.)