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The stuff of dreams

By Nick Cafardo
Globe Staff / October 23, 2011

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ARLINGTON , Texas - You’re Nolan Ryan, president and CEO of the Texas Rangers, sitting in the stands all night with President George W. Bush, watching Albert Pujols unload on your team for three homers, five hits, and six RBIs in a 16-7 win over the Rangers in Game 3 of the World Series.

Now we know Pujols belongs to St. Louis, and we’d be shocked to see him sign elsewhere when he becomes a free agent after the World Series. But in this climate, who knows? The Cardinals have resisted signing their franchise player the past two seasons. They have made offers and Pujols has declined them because he wants to see what else is out there and what he’s worth.

He’s spent his entire career in St. Louis, but returning to the Cardinals is not etched in stone.

If you’re Ryan or Rangers general manager Jon Daniels and you’re watching what this man could do in this launching pad ballpark over 81 games, and you’re sitting here with Mitch Moreland as your first baseman, aren’t you at least tempted to dream?

Or are the Rangers, who have made two consecutive World Series appearances, simply too good to bother with one of these megadeals?

It’s probably pie in the sky to think Pujols, 31, would be anywhere but St. Louis, but even he would have to admit that the Rangers’ ballpark is conducive to watching his line drives leave the field of play pretty rapidly.

For one night, fans got to watch the Cardinals first baseman tear down Rangers Ballpark in a Pujolsian display for the ages. Only Babe Ruth, who did it for the Yankees in 1926 and 1928, and Reggie Jackson with the Yankees in 1977, have hit three homers in a World Series game.

“To do it on this stage was incredible, but I didn’t walk into this ballpark today to set out to be in the company of Babe Ruth,’’ Pujols said.

He tied the RBI mark for a postseason game and his 14 total bases are a World Series record. The three homers were shots - a three-run bomb in the sixth, a two-run smash in the seventh, and a solo shot in the ninth.

It was, really, the greatest individual performance in World Series history.

Cardinal fans don’t want to hear or imagine Pujols in someone else’s uniform. Any time it’s been suggested here, the e-mails come in from St. Louis, some of which are pretty intense. A few have started with “Not everyone wants to play in Boston.’’

But when free agency hits, how can you not think of how he would look in a Cubs jersey? How would he look in an Orioles uniform?

Would he accept a DH role with the Red Sox or the Yankees? He could be slipped into the third hole and Adrian Gonzalez dropped to cleanup, or he could hit third in the Yankee lineup between Robinson Cano and Mark Teixeira.

Or here in Texas, hit him third and drop Josh Hamilton to cleanup and Michael Young to fifth.

When you watch that kind of display, you just wonder: Why didn’t the Cardinals get their franchise player wrapped up before allowing guys like me to write this column?

Pujols is a .328 career hitter in the regular season, with 445 homers and 1,329 RBIs. He’s been in the top four in the NL’s MVP voting nine times.

If he retired tomorrow he’d be a Hall of Famer.

“This is just the latest example of how great he is,’’ said St. Louis manager Tony La Russa.

Asked if it was the best night of his career, Pujols said, “I don’t know. I’ll tell about that after this [World Series] is over. It’s not about me. Thank God I was able to contribute. It’s not about numbers for me. This is a team game, not an individual one.

“Maybe after my career I can look back and say, ‘Wow, what a great game Game 3, 2011, was for me.’ ’’

Pujols didn’t have to be anything but humble. In fact he said how embarrassed he was because the media made such a big deal about him walking out of the clubhouse without speaking to reporters Friday night when he felt the focus should have been on pitcher Jaime Garcia.

He didn’t have to say a word. There were plenty of superlatives - so many jaws that dropped and so many oohs and aahs.

There was nothing better to watch.

And all of those teams that need what this man gives were watching . . . and dreaming.

Nick Cafardo can be reached at cafardo@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @nickcafardo.

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