ST. LOUIS (AP) -Albert Pujols showed St. Louis Cardinals manager Tony La Russa he could play under control in 2003, avoiding cutting loose with throws from left field to prevent blowing out his elbow.
So La Russa has no doubt that Pujols, who felt one side go numb from a high hamstring injury on Wednesday night, can be just as careful now. The Cardinals' star was in the lineup and batting third on Thursday against the Florida Marlins with orders to take it easy.
``That was real dramatic, and I've trusted him ever since,'' La Russa said. ``He knows if he has to miss the rest of the weekend, we'll win more games from Tuesday through the end of the season than to do something crazy today. He's smart.''
Pujols was batting .322 with a team-leading 30 homers and 83 RBIs for the defending World Series champions, who have won 10 of their last 13 and began the day three games back in the NL Central.
``Obviously, you need to be careful because you want to take care of your body,'' Pujols said. ``But I get paid to play, I get paid to help this team to win. This is not a moment for me to sit down.''
Pujols was scared when his right side went numb after fouling off a pitch in his first at-bat. He took some extra time to regroup before homering for the fifth straight game, in the process becoming the only player in major league history to start his career with seven straight 30-homer seasons.
He protected the sore hamstring by settling for a single on a liner off the base of the left-field wall in the fourth. He jogged a few steps toward second on Juan Encarnacion's subsequent double-play ball and then headed back to the dugout, and took his time on a routine grounder in the eighth.
``I don't want to change the way I play the game,'' Pujols said. ``Obviously, I know I have an injury that I need to be careful with.''
La Russa wanted to remove Pujols Wednesday, but Pujols twice talked him out of it. The manager had two lineups ready when he arrived at Busch Stadium on Thursday, one with Pujols and one with Chris Duncan playing first base instead. He threw the alternate version away when trainer Barry Weinberg gave him the ``thumbs up.''
Pujols knew when he woke up that he'd be good to go.
``If I was in a position where I woke up this morning and I had problems doing my regular things, I wasn't going to attempt to go out there and play,'' he said. ``But I didn't have any problems. I was chasing my daughter up and down today. I feel fine.''
The Cardinals got by for several weeks in 2003 while Pujols was nursing a sprained elbow ligament, sending shortstop Edgar Renteria sprinting to the outfield so Pujols could flip him the ball. Center fielder Jim Edmonds served as a second relay man along with yelling constant reminders.
The tradeoff now is that until the hamstring quiets down, Pujols won't be his usual aggressive self taking the extra base, and forget about infield hits and stolen bases.
``He's been running under control for a long time,'' La Russa said. ``Today will be an exaggerated example of that, I'm guessing.''
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