"He's the best hitter in the game," Braves manager Bobby Cox said about Pujols when his club faced the Cardinals last week. "You're not going to find anybody who plays first base much better than him or has better instincts for playing the game of baseball. It's a pretty good package."
Pepsi is celebrating its 13th anniversary as the Official Soft Drink of Major League Baseball. This is the fourth year for the Clutch Performer award and the first time Pujols has won the monthly honor.
Any player at any position can win. All-Star sluggers, slick-fielding shortstops, fifth-man-in-the-rotation pitchers, you name it. This is purely a recognition of the Major Leaguer who carried his team in one form or another, regardless of contract, past accomplishments or shoe endorsements. All that matters here is who performed best when the game was on the line, offensively or defensively.
Pujols garnered 29 percent of the vote to beat Mets right-hander Mike Pelfrey (24 percent), Rockies right-hander Ubaldo Jimenez (21 percent), Brewers left fielder Ryan Braun (18 percent), Marlins third baseman Jorge Cantu (five percent) and Tigers first baseman Miguel Cabrera (three percent).
Pujols earned the honor after a monster opening month in which he hit .345 with seven home runs and 19 RBIs in 22 games. He also carried a .430 on-base percentage that helped him score 15 runs, and had a .587 slugging percentage.
He was especially impressive in clutch situations with men on base, as he batted .348 with a 1.270 OPS with three home runs and 14 RBIs in those spots.
And he was also clutch with games on the line, too, as he batted .583 (7-for-12) with a home run, two doubles, three RBIs and five runs scored in late-and-close situations with the batting team leading by one run, tied, or having the potential tying run on base, at bat, or on deck after the seventh inning.
It started right out of the gates, too, as Pujols hit two homers in an Opening Day 11-6 win over the Reds that began a stretch in which he knocked in 13 runs in his first 21 at-bats with runners in scoring position.
He hit two more homers in the Cardinals' 8-7 loss to the Brewers on April 11, including a home run in the ninth inning off closer Trevor Hoffman. He added three hits and a homer in a 2-0 win over the Giants on April 25. The next day, he doubled and scored the winning run in the eighth inning as the Cardinals beat the Braves, 4-3.
The ever-humble Pujols chalked up his big hits to being mechanically sound at the plate.
"Any hitter can tell you," Pujols said, "when you drive the ball to the right, the ball outside, you hit it out of the park the other way, and the ball inside, you pull it down the line, it tells you you're trusting your hands. And that's something that I always try to do -- make sure I trust myself and what I'm capable of doing."
At the conclusion of the 2010 regular season, fans will have the opportunity to vote on the Major League Baseball Clutch Performer of the Year presented by Pepsi from among six finalists selected by a special MLB.com editorial panel.