CLOSE

Now Commenting On:

Notes: Pujols in elite company

Notes: Pujols in elite company

ST. LOUIS -- For exactly one season, two of the most explosive right-handed hitters in recent memory shared the same clubhouse. As Mark McGwire's career came to a close, a young slugger named Albert Pujols was watching the way McGwire went at the game, the way McGwire studied film and opponents, the way he concentrated on every at-bat.

As Pujols stands on the brink of what may be his first MVP award, the Cardinals are honoring their greats of the last 40 years -- a list that includes McGwire. Pujols acknowledged that his year playing with "Big Mac" influenced him significantly.

"He was battling injuries with his knee, and he came out and had a good year," Pujols said. "And I learned a lot from him, just the concentration and the way that he approached the game. That was my goal, to learn from veteran guys. As a rookie, that's something that I picked up from him that helped me out in the future."

McGwire remains a beloved player in St. Louis, even as his name stirs controversy elsewhere in the country. Tony La Russa, who managed both hitters, sees definite similarities between them. In fact, when asked about Pujols before Sunday's game, La Russa brought up McGwire without the comparison being mentioned to him.

"Just like McGwire hitting those home runs, it's amazing to watch that kind of excellence over and over again," La Russa said of Pujols' exploits. "I've had the good fortune of watching it since 1987.

"[Pujols] comes to the ballpark about the same time. He has the same discipline, work ethic."

Schedule takes shape: When Houston secured the National League Wild Card on Sunday, it ensured that St. Louis will play San Diego in the first round of the playoffs. The Cards finished with the NL's best record, but two teams from the same division cannot meet in the Division Series.

Game 1 will be Tuesday at Busch Stadium at 12 p.m. CT, with Game 3 at Busch on Thursday -- time yet to be determined. Game 3 and, if necessary, Game 4 will be held in San Diego on Saturday, Oct. 8 and Sunday, Oct. 9, with an if-necessary Game 5 at Busch on Monday, Oct. 10.

Reyes injured: Right-hander Al Reyes was removed from Sunday's game with what is being called a "sprained elbow," and the club is concerned. Reyes was pulled with a 3-2 count to Felipe Lopez in the seventh inning, replaced by Randy Flores.

"Al Reyes, we are concerned about," said La Russa. "He felt something in his elbow on that pitch he tried to make in, and they're going to wait until tomorrow to give him an exam. But we're concerned about him."

Who's in, who's out: At least one and possibly two spots on St. Louis' postseason roster remain undetermined, and the choices won't necessarily come down strictly to who is the best player. Much like a bullpen, a playoff roster is an interlocking thing, and you need players that complement each other well.

Among the players vying for spots are John Gall, a righty-swinging first baseman/outfielder, and Skip Schumaker, an outfielder who hits from the left side. The two provide a significant contrast in skills. Schumaker is faster and more skilled defensively, while Gall is a more polished hitter and has shown fine pinch-hitting acumen.

Schumaker has played himself from an emergency roster add in June to a player receiving consideration to play in October, thanks to his solid play at the big league level.

"We're trying to win games," said La Russa. "And to win games, he's been the guy because of his defense at three positions and the fact that he's taken good at-bats. So he's gotten the call.

"The thought occurred to me, I'm using this guy a lot, so he's under consideration. But most probably, in the postseason, you're not taking out Reggie [Sanders] and Larry [Walker] after three at-bats. So that's a factor. That spot is probably going to be more about taking a tough at-bat as a pinch-hitter, which he hasn't done in a negative way either."

Edmonds out again: Jim Edmonds was out of the lineup for a second straight game due to soreness in his right shoulder, although he played the ninth inning to be a part the Busch Stadium farewell game. Edmonds is expected to be available when the playoffs start.

Finally, an ERA title? The Cardinals entered Sunday's game with an excellent chance to secure their first National League team ERA title since 1969. La Russa acknowledged that it would be a welcome accomplishment, but reiterated his recent mantra that the Cardinals don't play for statistics.

"It's not what we chase, but it would be a special, legitimate, tangible recognition of what this pitching staff and catchers have done, and the pitching coach," La Russa said.

King returns: After leaving the club for a day to visit his ailing father, Ray King returned to the Cardinals on Sunday. King pitched Friday, but left for a day to tend to his father, who is seriously ill with cancer. He was expected to be available to pitch in the regular-season finale.

Disaster relief: King and Jason Marquis presented MLB Commissioner Allan H. "Bud" Selig with a check for $31,000 before Sunday's game. The contribution was on behalf of the Cardinals' fund-raising efforts for Hurricane Katrina relief.

A little fun: La Russa and third-base coach Jose Oquendo both took a couple of swings of batting practice before Sunday's game. La Russa's cuts drew particular fan attention, and he hammed it up for all it was worth. The skipper pointed his bat out to left field, a la Babe Ruth, before fouling a pitch off. On his second swing, he connected for a bouncer out toward second base before handing off to So Taguchi.

Today in Busch Stadium history: On Oct. 2, 1968, Bob Gibson delivered perhaps the signature performance of his brilliant career. In Game 1 of the World Series, matched up against AL Cy Young recipient and 31-game winner Denny McLain, Gibson absolutely dominated. He went the distance against the Tigers, allowing five hits and a walk in a 4-0 win. Gibson struck out a World Series-record 17 batters.

Coming up: The Cardinals begin the National League Division Series at home on either Tuesday or Wednesday with Chris Carpenter taking the hill for the opener.

Matthew Leach is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

{}
{}