ST. LOUIS - An impressive game from Albert Pujols shouldn't come as a surprise. What teammate David Freese continues to do is starting to become less of a shock as well.
Pujols had two hits and was on base four times and Freese continued a strong postseason with three more hits as the Cardinals beat the Milwaukee Brewers 4-3 in Game 3 of the National League Championship Series.
Making the seventh playoff appearance of his 11-year career, Pujols contributed an RBI double and scored a run during the Cardinals' four-run first inning. He then singled on a 3-0 pitch in the second inning, giving him six hits in last seven at-bats. The Brewers finally wised up and intentionally walked the three-time MVP in both the fourth and sixth innings.
Pujols is hitting .636 (7-for-11) in the NLCS with four doubles, six RBIs and four runs scored.
"He continues to amaze me every single year," said starter Chris Carpenter. "You can't believe the things he does, the games that he has, pressures that he deals with, distractions that he deals with.
"He continues to grind, he continues to play and continues to do the things that amazes every single one of us every single day. So what he's doing right now, that's him. That's who he is. He's an exceptional player, exceptional hitter. He's got the mind of stone. Nothing bothers him no matter what situation he's in. And that's what makes him great."
The fact that Pujols is producing in the postseason shouldn't be headline news. He entered the game with a career .333 average in 63 playoff games and improved Wednesday on his lifetime .376 average in the NLCS.
But the slugger has been on base eight times in the past two games, helping fuel the Cardinals 2-1 lead in the best of seven series.
"He's hot at the right time," said outfielder Lance Berkman. "It doesn't seem like he can miss-hit the ball and that's great. And really we have two guys with him and Freese. They are really hot right now and you have to have that when you're playing these playoff games.
"I think it's well documented that he's the best hitter in the game, so when he gets hot, it's great for all involved."
While Pujols was putting together his Rookie of the Year campaign with the Cardinals in 2001, a young David Freese was just a sophomore at Lafayette High in St. Louis. Freese watched Pujols burst onto the scene, hoping himself to just reach the big leagues some day.
The furthest thing from his mind was ever getting to play with Pujols, so calling it a dream come true would be false. But the last two years have been a career changer for the third baseman, who has come into his own while watching and studying every move of the game's greatest.
"The thing about Albert and the other big guys we've got," Freese said. "I learn and I watch them like a hawk every day. I think I've had the opportunity to kind of do some things because of them.
"I've learned that you've got to put your work in. Those guys will tell you that they don't wake up and hit .330 with 40 home runs and 120 RBIs. A lot of dedication and a lot of hard work, and you have to be even keel."
The postseason rookie has made the most of his first chance to play in October, going 3-for-4 with two doubles and an RBI. His run-scoring double in the first inning put the Cardinals up 4-0. They eventually won 4-3.
Freese went just 2-for-13 with seven strikeouts to start the playoffs. But he's 9-for-17 with three doubles, three home runs and 10 RBIs since. He's hitting .407 since the first game of the Division Series.
The RBI in the first was his 11th of the postseason, tying him for fourth-most by a Cardinal in a single postseason. The record holder is Pujols, who had 14 RBIs in the 2004 playoffs.
"He's a confident guy," Berkman said. "There are certain players that you play with that whatever it is, he's got it. He's special. He's demonstrating that to a national audience now. We all knew he was this type of player just from being around him here but now he's doing it on a national stage.
"He's a great player. He'll be one of the premiere third baseman in the league the next few years for sure."
Freese is on the rise. Pujols remains at the top. Just two wins away from a trip to the World Series, the Cardinals hope that both trends continue.