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NLDS is first step toward Pujols' goal

NLDS is first step toward Pujols' goal

ST. LOUIS -- With the 162-game, six-month grind of a prelude out of the way, Albert Pujols is ready for the fun stuff.

Pujols loves playing in October, and after being deprived of the pleasure for two years, he's as excited as ever for his sixth postseason. He's coming off what might have been his best offensive season, he's feeling good physically, and he believes he's on a team with a chance at another World Series title.

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Pulse
Cardinals at a glance
2009 record: 91-71
2008 record: 86-76
NL Central champs

WHO ARE THESE GUYS?
McClellan: Hometown boy
Cards: Shaking off walk-off
Ludwick: Dream fulfilled
Hawksworth: On way up
Ryan: Playing it cool
Pujols: Ready for fun stuff
Wainwright: Proud, durable
Holliday: Kids' play
Pujols: Triple Crown?
La Russa: 14th postseason
Carpenter: Heart of staff
Pujols: Eschewing rest
Holliday: A perfect fit
Carpenter: Ready to go
La Russa: Getting proactive
Wainwright: Apt pupil
Pujols: His place in history?
Pujols: The evolution
Holliday: Offensive spark
La Russa: Controls fate
Pujols: MVP No. 3?
Wainwright: Mr. Consistent
La Russa: Winning cures all
Carpenter: A go Game 1
Holliday: Big impact
Wainwright: Cy in cards?

"It's something that, when we went to Spring Training, we worked for," Pujols said. "Our job in Spring Training was to get ourselves ready for the season and get ourselves ready to be one of the eight teams that are going to be in the playoffs. Here we are. We accomplished that.

"But it's almost like when the baby starts crawling and takes that first step. This is not over. Our main job is to get to the World Series, and try to bring it back here to St. Louis. That's where we are right now. We're like a little baby, where we're crawling and we take one step, but we haven't walked all the way until you accomplish your goal, which is getting to the World Series."

Despite a bit of a power outage at the end of the season, Pujols is sure he's in excellent shape to help drive his team back to the Fall Classic. He didn't hit a homer and slugged only .410 after Sept. 9, but he nonetheless batted .357 with a .440 on-base percentage in September and October. For his career, he has hit .323 with a .429 OBP and .593 slugging percentage in 53 playoff games, numbers right about in line with his spectacular regular-season production.

"I feel great," he said. "I was a little disappointed when I was in Cincinnati. I got a little bit of flu, and it drained me out. I was like, not now, God. I don't need this now. I got to play through it. I was a little weak over the last couple of days, but I feel great physically and mentally. I can't complain about the season that we had as a team, and myself. I accomplished a lot of great things, and we accomplished the most important thing, which is getting to the postseason."

Pujols' big season was a big part of why the Cardinals are playing this week. Manager Tony La Russa is convinced that without Pujols' brilliant first half, the Cardinals might not have even been above .500 at the All-Star break. And if that had been the case, there's a good chance they might not have dealt for Matt Holliday -- a deal that proved transformative to the Cardinals.

Division Series
Gm. 1LAD 5, STL 3WrapVideo
Gm. 2LAD 3, STL 2WrapVideo
Gm. 3LAD 5, STL 1WrapVideo

"I believe that's true," La Russa said. "We did lose Carp [Chris Carpenter] for six weeks. We lost [Kyle] Lohse. We were beat up. Didn't we lose [Ryan] Ludwick for a while? Lost [Rick] Ankiel. A lot of things might not have happened. Might not have pulled the trigger. Might not have been close enough. I think he was amazing. More amazing than usual."

One individual feat that Pujols achieved was his first home run crown. He paced the NL with 47 homers, the second time he has led the league in one of the "Triple Crown" categories. He won a batting title in 2003. Pujols has repeatedly led the league in runs scored and slugging percentage, and this year he led for the first time in OBP, but he had never won a homer crown before.

"It's great, something that I accomplished in my career," he said. "I celebrate with my teammates, because I was able to hit some of those balls out of the park, but at the same time I was able to help my ballclub get to the postseason. And I think that's what it's all about. It's about getting to the postseason, and hopefully continuing the rest of the postseason."

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

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