There’s just no getting around him

Matt Holliday spent five seasons playing against Albert Pujols, so he knew all about the batting titles, the clutch RBIs. But it wasn’t until he played with him this season that Holliday learned about Pujols’ other side.

“His defense is the thing that kind of surprises me the most,” Holliday says of the Cardinals first baseman, who set a record with 185 assists this season. “Unbelievable. I knew he was good. But he makes plays on defense that you just don’t see very often.”

And it’s that added dimension that takes Pujols to a higher plane, making him one of the rare players who can dominate a game or a series with his bat, his power, his glove or -- as the Dodgers can attest -- his feet.

“He’s obviously on a different level than any guy I’ve ever been around,” Holliday says.


This season, for instance, Pujols hit .327 and drove in 135 runs while leading the majors in six offensive categories, including homers (47), runs (124) and on-base percentage (.443). And he did it all while playing record-setting defense and striking out only 64 times in 568 at-bats.

“The thing that’s so good about Albert -- and I say this every chance I can -- he plays to win the game,” says his manager, Tony La Russa. “Base hits, running the bases, defense.”

Like the time the Dodgers took the bat out of his hands by walking him three times. So he stole a base and scored the winning run in the ninth.

“He is not driven by stats. He’s not driven by money,” La Russa says. “He wants to compete.”

Adds the Dodgers’ Manny Ramirez, who knows a thing or two about dominating games: “A guy that’s hitting that well, it’s hard to stop him. You’ll maybe stop him once, but he’ll get you two times. He doesn’t have three MVPs for nothing.”

Well, actually, he has only two. But after the season he’s had, it’s safe to clear space on the mantelpiece for a third, though he’d probably like a second World Series ring more.

“He’s elite,” says Randy Wolf, who will start today’s Game 1 for L.A. “He’s a clutch hitter. Doesn’t give any at-bats. You make a mistake, he doesn’t miss it. He’s a remarkable hitter. There’s nothing more you can say.”

-- Kevin Baxter