Keeping Score

Cardinal Conquest: Albert Pujols Hits Three Home Runs in Record-Breaking Game

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Eric Gay / AP

Albert Pujols, then of the Cardinals.

Well, that’s more like it. This year’s Mr. October has emerged from the World Series.

The first two games of the World Series, between the St. Louis Cardinals and Texas Rangers, were pitching duels, a surprise given the offensive prowess of both teams. But the Series saw its first offensive explosion in Saturday night’s Game 3, and it was a historic one. Albert Pujols had his Mr. October moment, as he hit three home runs in St. Louis’ 16-7 pounding of the Rangers in Arlington, Texas. The Cardinals lead the series, 2-1, and are just two wins away from clinching their 11th World Series title in franchise history.

If it weren’t for Pujols’ ninth inning error in Game 2, in which he missed a cutoff throw that allowed the eventual winning run to advance into scoring position in Texas’ 2-1 come-from-behind victory, the Cardinals might be up 3-0, in a position to sweep the series. Pujols then ducked the media after the game, calling his leadership and accountability into question.

In Game 3, Pujols annihilated his critics. His three home runs tied Babe Ruth and Reggie Jackson for the most in a World Series game (Ruth did it twice). Pujols also had five hits and six RBIs: no one had previous recorded two home runs, four hits, and five RBSs in a single World Series game. Pujols amassed 14 total bases in Game 3, a World Series record, and also became the first player to get hits in four consecutive innings in a World Series game.

(READ: Rangers Versus Cardinals, a Middle-Class, Middle America World Series)

Pujols’ effort might not only propel the Cardinals to the World Series. It should also earn him a handsome payout. Pujols’ free agent status has been a major baseball storyline all season. If there was any doubt that Pujols, the greatest hitter of the last decade who may go down as one of the greatest of all time, was going to earn a contract in the neighborhood of Alex Rodriguez’s 10-year, $250 million deal in 2007, it might have vanished into the October night, like one of his home runs.

In this post-bubble economy, Pujols might not exactly hit those exorbitant numbers. But his contract will be close. For any team, such a deal might not make the most economic sense. Even if Pujols breaks every World Series record now, age could still cause him to decline in five years. (Pujols is 31). Throughout baseball history, such decline tends to occur with great sluggers.

But sports franchises sometimes act irrationally. Pujols’ Game 3 performance will intoxicate teams throughout the majors. Maybe even St. Louis.  And if he doesn’t sign it in St. Louis, the team for which he has played throughout this 11-year career, it just won’t feel appropriate. The New Mr. October belongs to the Cardinals.

Sean Gregory is a staff writer at TIME. Find him on Twitter at @seanmgregory. You can also continue the discussion on TIME’s Facebook page and on Twitter at @TIME.

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