Albert Pujols' pinch-hit RBI single in 10th delivers Dodgers' win over Rockies

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Los Angeles Dodgers' Albert Pujols waves to fans after the 10th inning of a baseball game against the Colorado Rockies Tuesday, Sept. 21, 2021, in Denver. The Dodgers won 5-4 behind an RBI-single hit by Pujols in the 10th inning. (AP Photo/David Zalubowski)
The Dodgers' Albert Pujols waves to fans after the 10th inning against the Colorado Rockies on Tuesday in Denver. The Dodgers won 5-4 behind a pinch-hit, RBI single by Pujols in the 10th inning. (David Zalubowski / Associated Press)

For all talented players in their primes throughout the Dodgers’ lineup, a relentless barrage of firepower when the machine is rolling, there was nobody better for the most important at-bat Tuesday night against the Colorado Rockies than the hulking, 41-year-old man who dawdled off the bench in the 10th inning.

Gavin Lux, the go-ahead run, stood at second base when Albert Pujols stepped into the batter’s box to face Jhoulys Chacín. The matchup wasn’t ideal — right-handed hitter against right-hander — but that was irrelevant. Pujols, nearing the end of his 21st major-league season, understood the assignment as a pinch-hitter in the thick of his first pennant race in seven years. Find a hole, anywhere, for his 2,150th career RBI and 38th in 78 games as a Dodger.

The future Hall of Famer needed two pitches. Pujols took the first, a curveball, for a strike. He cracked the second one, a slider, up the middle. The groundball squeaked through the infield, allowing Lux to race around to score in the Dodgers’ 5-4 win at Coors Field.

“In that situation, sometimes you think you have to hit the ball out of the ballpark and you don’t,” Pujols said. “You just have to have a good at-bat and just put the ball in play and hopefully get a base hit. And that’s it.”

The victory ensured that the Dodgers (97-54) would not lose ground on the San Francisco Giants in the National League West standings Tuesday. The Giants remained a game ahead of the Dodgers with a 6-5 win over the San Diego Padres.

Julio Urías and Antonio Senzatela, the game’s starting pitchers, matched each other for six innings. Both hurlers were perfect for three innings and each wound up surrendering four runs on seven hits without a walk before exiting.

The Rockies (70-80) scored two runs in the fourth to take the lead before the Dodgers tallied two runs in the fifth and two more in the sixth to jump in front. Colorado then tied the score in the sixth on back-to-back RBI doubles from C.J. Cron and Elias Díaz.

At the plate, Urías lined a two-out single in the fifth inning for his ninth RBI of the season, tops among NL pitchers. On the mound, he was efficient — he threw just 73 pitches — but his velocity was appreciably down from his season averages for the second straight start.

The 25-year-old left-hander’s fastball averaged 92.4 mph compared with his 94.1 average entering the outing. His curveball dropped to 79.7 from his 81.4 average. His changeup sunk the most, from 86.9 to 84.5.

Dodgers pitcher Julio Urias works against the Colorado Rockies.
Dodgers pitcher Julio Urias works against the Colorado Rockies in the first inning Tuesday in Denver. (David Zalubowski / Associated Press)

Urías has logged a career-high 1741/3 innings this season — nearly 100 more than his previous high — but he insisted fatigue isn’t an issue.

“I feel good,” Urías said in Spanish. “I feel strong. At the end of the game, I don’t feel tired or anything and I think that’s a good sign.”

It was Urías’ spot in the batting order that Pujols briefly took in the 10th inning, more than three hours after first pitch. The temperature had dipped below 60 degrees. Pujols had sensed an opportunity was coming and was prepared. He smelled the RBI and a chance to help his club pull out its ninth win in 10 games.

The single was Pujols’ 13th hit in 34 pinch-hit at-bats this season — one hit behind the major-league lead. He owns a .980 on-base-plus-slugging percentage in the role, one he was rarely used in before joining the Dodgers in May.

“He’s been a lefty killer,” manager Dave Roberts said. “He’s on the roster for that reason. But the bottom line is that when guys are in scoring position, he knows how to drive in a run, regardless of handedness.”

Pujols tapped his helmet in celebration when he reached first base before he was pulled for a pinch-runner. He was the first person out of the Dodgers’ dugout when Alex Vesia got Colton Welker to fly out to end the game. A big smile stretched across Pujols’ face. He was tasked for a job and he made it look easy.

This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.

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