'Doesn't get any better': Pujols lifts Cards with walk-off in 10th

Nootbaar's throw home, Edman's steal set stage for veteran's winning sac fly

June 1st, 2022

ST. LOUIS -- Albert Pujols added another chapter to his storybook career as a Cardinal with a sacrifice fly that plated Tommy Edman in the 10th inning for a 3-2 St. Louis victory over the Padres at Busch Stadium on Tuesday night.

Pujols needed just a sacrifice fly after Edman -- who started the inning on second base -- stole third base in the middle of Pujols' at-bat.

Pujols, who is back with the Cardinals for the 22nd and final year of his career, then drilled a pitch up in the zone into deep left field to plate Edman.

The walk-off winner was Pujols' 15th as a Cardinal, moving him past Ken Boyer (14 walk-off winners) for second place in franchise history.

“I take my approach out there and really trust my work and trust what I practice day in and day out,” Pujols said of sticking with the mindset of looking to hit a ball hard somewhere into the outfield. “Obviously, having [Edman] on third now, I just want to stay away from the ground-ball double play, which I hold that record. I just got a good pitch to hit and I put it up in the air, and it was deep enough for him to score from third base.”

It was Pujols’ second run-scoring sacrifice fly of the game. Of course, following Pujols’ first walk-off winner for the Cardinals since June of 2011, he was immediately embraced by catcher and close friend Yadier Molina.

Said Cardinals pitcher Adam Wainwright: “I think we all wanted to see Albert walk it off there. That’s a fair assessment.”

Cardinals left fielder Lars Nootbaar came up big defensively in the top of the 10th. Nootbaar, who was inserted into the game in the seventh inning as a pinch-runner and stayed in the game in left field, aggressively charged a Jurickson Profar single and threw out José Azocar at the plate. His throw easily beat Azocar and Molina applied the tag to send the game to the bottom of the 10th.

“I told him he was Vladimir Guerrero now, but I can’t call him Junior because he’s already playing,” said Wainwright, who threw seven scoreless innings while striking out 10 batters, including Padres star Manny Machado twice before he was ejected in the sixth inning. “He brought back shades of Vladdy out there because that was a strong throw from out there. It was a perfect strike and a great winning play there.”

According to MLB Stats and Research, Nootbaar’s throw left his hand at 96.5 mph. Making the throw even more impressive was this: Azocar had a sprint speed of 28.5 feet per second from second to home -- well above the MLB average of 27 feet per second.

“With [coaches] Willie [McGee] and Pop [Warner], we work on those types of plays all the time,” said Nootbaar, who made the play possible by aggressively attacking the grounder. “Earlier in the day, we were actually working on throws to bases. Credit to those guys who are always on us and working us out. That’s just the nature of Cardinal baseball and taking pride in defense and little things like that. Obviously, tonight that came up pretty big.”

The Cardinals built a 2-0 lead in the third inning, and once again, star first baseman Paul Goldschmidt was in the middle of the rally. Goldschmidt drove a ball into the right-center gap for a double that plated rookie Brendan Donovan.

Goldschmidt, who extended his on-base streak to 36 games earlier with a walk, pushed his hit streak to 22 games. Also, his 23rd extra-base hit of the month is a new Cardinal record for May.

Wainwright left with 10 K's and a 2-0 lead, but he lost out on the chance for the 190th victory of his career when San Diego’s Jorge Alfaro doubled and Trent Grisham homered off reliever Giovanny Gallegos to tie it in the eighth.

That just set the stage for Pujols’ heroics in the 10th inning. Nootbaar, who was in the on-deck circle when Pujols was at the plate in the 10th, marveled at the symmetry of the night.

“When I saw that they were pitching to Albert, I thought to myself, ‘Is there anybody else that you would rather have at the plate right now -- other than maybe Paul Goldschmidt -- than Albert Pujols?” Nootbaar recalled asking himself from the on-deck circle. “I mean, it’s Albert Pujols in Busch Stadium. It doesn’t get any better than that.”