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Cards downplay Pujols' homerless stretch

Cards downplay Pujols' struggles

ST. LOUIS -- A day after the Cardinals' season ended with a 5-1 loss to the Los Angeles Dodgers in Game 3 of the National League Division Series, manager Tony La Russa met with the media on Sunday to discuss what went wrong for a team that was the first to clinch a division title and at one point enjoyed an 11 1/2-game lead over the second-place Chicago Cubs.

And while the reasons for the Cardinals' disappointing three-game sweep by the Dodgers were plentiful, don't try blaming Albert Pujols and his recent lack of power.

The NL MVP favorite finished the regular season and playoffs without a home run in his final 89 at-bats -- the longest stretch in his career. But despite not homering since launching Nos. 46 and 47 in Milwaukee a month ago on Sept. 9, La Russa downplayed his star's end to the season.

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"People can pick and choose what they really want to write about or talk about," La Russa said. "If somebody wants to look at the last 80, 90 at-bats and say that he wasn't hitting the ball with authority, he wasn't strong enough to hit the ball out of the park, they can point to that stat.

"I think its ridiculous. He had probably an MVP season. He didn't hit .200 in the month of September and October. He was very productive. He's the same Albert Pujols that hit the 47 home runs. There wasn't anything different about him. He just got pitched differently and he makes adjustments. He's still a great hitter."

Pujols hit .303 (27-for-89) since his two-homer day on Sept 9, but had just 12 RBIs in 24 games to end the year. Of his 27 hits, just eight were doubles. But the slugger repeatedly had to answer questions about his lack of extra-base hits down the stretch and didn't have much of an answer.

The two-time MVP's struggles carried over to the postseason, as he went 3-for-10 with three singles, three walks and one RBI. The Cardinals won as many games in the series as Pujols hit home runs -- zero.

"That's a good formula to beat anybody, is to get to their starters and hold the heart of their order quiet," said pitcher Adam Wainwright. "I think they were not going to let Albert beat them. No offense to Matt Holliday. He's one of the best. but Albert is the best. So I think their strategy was, we are at all costs not going to lose to Albert Pujols."

The Dodgers indeed shut down Pujols and his power, taking the Cardinals down in the process. But don't try to tell La Russa that Pujols struggled down the stretch just because he didn't hit any home runs.

"I heard that during the season a couple of times -- 'he didn't hit home runs' -- and he responded by hitting one," La Russa said. "It's all ridiculous. Just look at his at-bats, he's a great hitter. Personally, I think its a joke when somebody wants to point out the number of games [since he hit a home run]. I mean you can point it out if you want, too, but if you make an inference that his power is not there or he changed his approach, he's proven over time that that's not the Albert Pujols that we know."

Pujols' final numbers look anything but those of a guy who struggled over the final three weeks, hitting .327 with 47 home runs, 145 RBIs and 124 runs. But the only number Cardinals fans will think about going into the offseason will be 89 -- the number of at-bats since Pujols homered.

B.J. Rains is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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