After Neftali Feliz struck out Ryan Theriot to begin the ninth, Pujols walked toward the plate for the 7,749th time in his Major League career. With the Cardinals trailing by two and their season down to as many outs, Pujols, whether he cared to admit it, surely recognized the possibility.
With free agency merely days away, and his future in St. Louis uncertain beyond this series, this was going to be it for him. The crowd, evident by its applause and refusal to sit down, recognized that, too.
And then something special happened.
Pujols ripped a first-pitch fastball to center for a double, sparking a rally that, three batters later, was capped by David Freese's game-tying triple. It was Pujols' first hit of the game and his first since a historic Game 3 performance in which he tallied three home runs on a five-hit night.
"The thing is, we don't count ourselves out," Pujols said. "One thing that I think we've done all year is battling and going out there and giving our best and hopefully, in the end, get the win."
After delaying the inevitable in the ninth, Pujols came to bat in a similar situation in the 10th. His team again trailing and this time down to its final out, Pujols didn't even get a chance to swing. Texas manager Ron Washington ordered Scott Feldman to put Pujols, the potential game-winning run, on first.
The intentional walk was the fifth drawn by Pujols this series. Turns out it put him in perfect position to watch Lance Berkman drop a two-strike, game-tying single in front of center fielder Josh Hamilton.
Pujols wouldn't get to hit again Thursday. That was of little consequence. He'll get another game's worth of at-bats Friday when he plays in the first World Series Game 7 of his career.
"This is better than the three home runs I hit the other day," Pujols said after the Cardinals' stunning 10-9 win. "This is just unbelievable. This is what it's all about. If I don't tell you that's the best game I've played [in], I'm lying to you."
Pujols' performance in this Fall Classic has been mixed. His five-hit night Saturday will go down as one of the best in World Series history. But he preceded that with an 0-for-7 start and followed it up by going hitless in his next 10 at-bats. That included his first four Thursday.
Now, though, he is guaranteed one more game.
Pujols said he'd likely fall asleep around 3 or 4 a.m., but not until after he watches video of Matt Harrison, the Rangers' Game 7 starter. Indeed, the work wasn't over for Pujols on Thursday night. And neither was his season.
"This is pretty special," Pujols said. "This is what baseball is all about. Having an opportunity to go to a Game 7 in a World Series is unbelievable. Amazing. I don't even know what to say."