ST. LOUIS — The irony of being in a career-worst power slump when he was persuaded to participate in Monday night’s Home Run Derby was lost on Albert Pujols.
Pujols and Alex Rios of the Toronto Blue Jays were the final two participants added to the field, Major League Baseball spokesman Pat Courtney said Sunday. The Derby will be held in San Francisco, site of Tuesday’s All-Star game.
“I know it’s not going to be long before I hit one, but I’m not going to go out there and look for it,” Pujols said. “Every time I get myself ready I say, ‘What can I do today to help my team win?’
“With my defense, with my at-bats, with whatever I can do.”
Pujols’ homerless streak reached 22 games and a career-worst 74 at-bats when he was 1-for-3 with an RBI single and walk in the Cardinals 7-0 victory over the Giants on Sunday. He’s tied with Chris Duncan for the team lead with 16 homers and last homered off Jimmy Gobble in Kansas City on June 14.
Pujols’ last homer was off Kansas City’s Jimmy Gobble on June 14. The All-Star first baseman was batting .310 with 52 RBIs and was among the league leaders with a .411 on-base percentage.
Since his last homer, Pujols is batting .324 with an impressive .475 on-base percentage, with 22 walks and a hit by pitch and four doubles. In the last 10 games he’s batting .400.
“I think you’ll see he hasn’t forgotten how, if you watched batting practice today,” manager Tony La Russa said. “Just watch where they’re pitching him. They’re not giving him much to drive, so he’s taking what they’re giving him.”
Throughout the team’s seven-game homestand heading into the break, La Russa criticized talk of Pujols’ power outage, pointing out his run production. He also worried that if the talk kept up, Pujols might start pressing.
“I don’t make anything of Albert. Nothing,” La Russa said. “He’s elevated his average and he’s driving in runs.
“Actually, it’s one of those irritating things that gets brought up.”
Rios is hitting .294 with 17 homers and 53 RBIs. The All-Star outfielder drove in the winning run in the Blue Jays’ 1-0 victory over Cleveland on Sunday.
Rios, Minnesota’s Justin Morneau, Vladimir Guerrero of the Angels and Magglio Ordonez of the Tigers are the AL’s representatives for the Derby. Pujols, Philadelphia’s Ryan Howard, and Prince Fielder of the Brewers are the NL contestants. Florida’s Miguel Cabrera was scratched Sunday because of a shoulder injury.
The only other time Pujols participated in the Home Run Derby was at U.S. Cellular Field in Chicago in 2003. He made it through the first round on a tiebreaker before belting 14 homers in the second round to reach the finals, where he lost 9-8 to Garret Anderson of the Los Angeles Angels.
Pujols hit 49 homers last season and has 266 in his career.
The Cardinals’ Jim Edmonds also participated in the Home Run Derby in 2003 after entering the break with 23 homers, and aggravated a shoulder injury that hampered him much of the second half.
La Russa has suggested reducing the number of outs from 10 to five to avoid injuries, noting that while it might cut down on the drama it also would cut fatigue. He doesn’t mind Pujols participating because he’s one of three first basemen on the NL squad.
“The pressure builds, so you put a lot into it,” La Russa said. “I think it’s more physically demanding than it is risky for your stroke. It’s an ordeal, actually.”
Cardinals first base coach Dave McKay, who also throws some batting practice, will be throwing to Pujols in the Home Run Derby. Pujols isn’t worried about excessive wear and tear.
“I don’t try to hit balls 500 feet, I just put my best swings on it,” Pujols said. “We’re both going to have fun.”