About two hours prior to the Cardinals' game against the Phillies on Monday night, the Redbirds announced that Pujols would start at third base, rather than at first, where he has played almost exclusively for the past seven-plus seasons. Pujols last started at third base on Sept. 23, 2002. He last started at a position other than first on Sept. 28, 2003, when he played left field.
Pujols had five chances and handled them smoothly. He made one rather slick play on a Ben Francisco grounder in the seventh and started a double play. He won't play at third again on Tuesday, manager Tony La Russa said, but it may not be the last time he appears there.
"Am I going to be there tomorrow? Am I going to be there the rest of the year? Of course not," Pujols said. "That's why you see me taking ground balls there at shortstop. You just never know. I'm a first baseman, but as you know, I played shortstop in high school, I came up as a third baseman and I love the action. I love to take ground balls at different places, because you just never know when the team is going to need you."
When La Russa initially posted his lineup, it had Pujols at first as usual. However, Pujols approached La Russa and offered to play third, and the manager took him up on it. Nick Punto moved from third base to second, Allen Craig from second to right field and Lance Berkman from right to first.
"The whole thing centered on Albert," La Russa said. "Albert volunteered to play third. I wouldn't have really come forward unless we had a lot more reasons to do it."
The manager did not say whether he had plans to use Pujols at third base beyond Monday night, though he certainly didn't rule it out. The Cardinals are without regular third baseman David Freese, who is sidelined with a broken bone in his left hand.
"I don't make those calls," Pujols said. "I'm ready to play whenever he needs me there, but hopefully that doesn't happen too many times. But whenever he needs me, I will be ready to play. Like I said, this is not about myself, this is about this organization and helping this ballclub to win and whatever it takes I'm available to do it."
Pujols was initially moved from third base at the start of the 2002 season, when the Cardinals decided that their best defensive alignment featured him in left field and Placido Polanco at third. Following an elbow injury during the 2003 season, he began playing some first base, and since the start of '04, Pujols has been the Cards' first baseman.
La Russa said he had no significant concerns about Pujols' elbow on the other side of the diamond, and that he did not confer with general manager John Mozeliak or the team's training staff before making the move. Pujols expressed no worry about the joint.
"Everybody is thinking about my arm," Pujols said. "My arm is great. You know I got it fixed two years ago and I feel good. You know it's not about Albert Pujols, it's not about Allen Craig, it's about how can we contribute to our ballclub, and I was like, 'Hey, give me a shot there, and if I don't look good, then you know that will be the last time that I approach it.'"
Pujols also played 1 1/3 innings of third base on May 1 in Atlanta.