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Commentary: How Albert Pujols got his mojo back

"No longer in need of being the key part of the attack, Pujols is thriving in familiar territory with his best friends nearby."

ST. LOUIS — Tommy Edman blasted a baseball to the gap, and about 15 years fell off the clock.

Albert Pujols, 42 years old and leaving first base like second base was never an option to stop at, made it all the way home. In one sprint, which Usain Bolt would call slow motion, Pujols proved another aspect that his naysayers had wrong when he signed the one year, $2.5 million deal last month: He's too slow.

He's actually not that slow, and shouldn't really have a single naysayer in the city of St. Louis. He's helped the Cardinals way more than he has held them back, holding his own as Nolan Gorman and Juan Yepez destroy Triple-A pitching. I don't think Bill DeWitt Jr. will be asking for his money back after the first couple weeks. As the esteemed baseball detective (writer for Birds on the Black, the best Cardinals website in Cardinal Nation) Ben Cerutti said this morning, sample sizes are fun. Check out Pujols' start to 2022:

Three extra base hits per five games, according to Cerutti's research. A walk rate that still manages to nearly double his strikeout rate. It's not as ferocious and constantly powerful as the earlier years in his career, but he can still punish baseballs. He can beat up wrongly-located pitches from Major League Baseball competitors. Check out the 426-foot love letter he hit for Cardinal Nation on Easter. That game-tying home run collectively made St. Louis light a cigarette.

But there's more to his season than meets a stat sheet: a collective study of the same guy, ten years later and somehow still producing. Here's a few ways Pujols is clicking in St. Louis again.

Minute Maid Park and Wrigley Field own quite a few Albert baseball bruises, but there's nothing quite like home, is there?

For his career, Pujols is slashing .332/.434/.613 at "New" Busch Stadium. He also bashed at "Old" Busch Stadium too, hitting 94 home runs with a 1.045 OPS across the street. One can't forget about that particular level of comfort. 

Remember when he came in 2019 with the Los Angeles Angels and bashed a home run into the left field seats? The man has played a total 862 baseball games in downtown St. Louis. The mental aspect of the game, especially for an older player, can't be ignored. Pujols knows the fences, corners, gaps and lay of the land.

Losing weight in middle age is about as easy as saying no to the biscuits at Russell's on Macklind, so one can't forget the fact we are watching a leaner man compete in 2022.

Allow me to provide some context. Pujols is 42. I just turned 40 years old in February. Recently through a bout with COVID-19 and some other events, I lost about 15 pounds. More running, less Skittles, and a few more this and that. The point is I am moving much easier in my workouts now and the lighter feeling pertains to any form of movement--especially around bases.

Now, we are talking about a real machine here, which was Pujols' nickname during his first stint with the Cardinals. You can tell on that sprint around the bases on the Edman double that the weight loss had gone into effect. Less sluggish means more slug at the plate.

Now, all you have to do now is watch my ten minute fitness video on... I am kidding. Moving on.

An underrated aspect of the partnership is Pujols no longer has to save the day--even if he already has in the early weeks of the season.

Pujols doesn't have to play every day, and no he won't start against all right-handers. Add this to the mental element of the game. He walks into the clubhouse and sees Paul Goldschmidt and Nolan Arenado, and also a guy named Tyler O'Neill. Wrecking balls that can help the older slugger take a load off later in the summer. Let's say Pujols hits a wall and needs a break, even if just for a few games. The lineup is loaded enough, especially when Goldschmidt gets going, to allow this part-timer some rest.

Pujols is no longer at the top of the movie poster for the boys of summer. Instead, he has the coveted "and" spot on the cast sheet. Just another guy in some sense, but also one who can still change a game with one swing.

Where is Pujols when he's not playing? Sitting next to his best friends, Yadier Molina and Adam Wainwright. Who was smiling ear to ear after the blast against Milwaukee? Wainwright, who looked star struck.

Molina, who is experiencing a slower start to the season due to the lack of spring tune-up time and a sore knee, is always next to Pujols in the dugout. You want to impress, or playfully have challenges, around your best friends. It's why you wanted to be around them in the first place: they keep you sharp and on the edge, where you have to be. Able to spot the heat around the corner. Molina does that for Pujols.

It's a special finale that can get talked about until November for all I care. If baseball is supposed to be fun, watching an older lion like Pujols try to impress his friends, and us, is exactly what the sport needs.

Yes, I know. It's early. Only more games will tell if this is a sick teaser trailer or just one giant tease. One of the juicier parts of the regular season is its relentless longevity. The Cardinals are in the middle of a stretch of games where they won't see an open date until May 9, barring rainouts. A potent Pujols will help win a few of those games.

Ladies and gents, he's not just back. Albert Pujols has still got it.

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