NLCS will help shape legacies of Prince, Pujols

NLCS will help shape legacies of Prince, Pujols

NLCS will help shape legacies of Prince, Pujols
MILWAUKEE -- There will be plenty of time for Cardinals first baseman Albert Pujols and Brewers first baseman Prince Fielder to count the financial riches that await them after they enter the offseason as baseball's top free agents.

There might never again be an opportunity for both powerful first basemen to experience what is coming over the next few days, though, as they spend this next week competing against each other in the National League Championship Series.

"Even before the Cardinals made it, I was thinking about the fact that you couldn't write it up it any better -- Prince and Albert in the NLCS," said Milwaukee right fielder Corey Hart. "They made it. You have two of the biggest sluggers in the game trying to lead their team. It's going to be fun."

Now that the stage has been set, it does seem that this matchup between the Cardinals and Brewers will provide the best storylines. It's apparent these two NL Central rivals do not like each other, and the bad blood has nothing to do with what happened when they last met in the postseason during the 1982 World Series.

The intrigue of this best-of-seven series extends beyond the brushback pitches and the verbal jabs that were exchanged during the summer months. This is a battle that will further shape the legacies Pujols and Fielder will leave with their respective organizations.

It's hard to imagine Pujols playing for any other club, even after he tests the free-agent market. He has served as an icon in St. Louis over the past decade, and it's hard to imagine that the organization will not do whatever is necessary to give him a chance to spend his entire career in one uniform.

Brewers fans have likely found it difficult to watch Fielder construct yet another productive season with the understanding that there is a strong likelihood he will not play in Milwaukee beyond this year.

"If you don't let [outside distractions] get to you, it's easy to handle," Pujols said. "You zoom in and know what you do, and that's play baseball. He was born to play baseball, and I was born to play this game, too. Just enjoy every moment, [because] you don't know if this is going to be the last time you wear this uniform. You have to enjoy every moment."

This is certainly not completely foreign territory for Pujols, who has made four previous trips to the NLCS with the Cardinals and tasted the ultimate jubilation with a World Series title in 2006. But considering the great odds he and his teammates overcame in September, and with an NL Division Series win over the mighty Phillies, this has indeed been a special journey for the 31-year-old.

For Fielder, this has been a venture unlike any other he's experienced playing each of his seven big league seasons with the Brewers. Milwaukee has not been treated to an LCS since 1982.

"These moments don't come around too often," Fielder said. "So I'm just trying to enjoy it."

As Fielder's kids playfully doused each other with water as the Brewers celebrated Friday's Game 5 win over the D-backs, the 27-year-old felt at ease. For at least another week, Fielder's focus will not be on where he might be playing next season.

"I don't know if I look at it as much as me not having to think about free agency," Fielder said. "I'm just enjoying playing with this team and trying to go all the way."

Fielder seemed to be anything but overwhelmed or stressed when he met with media members at Miller Park on Saturday afternoon.

After responding to a question with, "We're just going to try to win three games," Fielder quickly asked, "Is [the NLCS] best-of-five or best-of-seven?"

"I think Prince has handled it as well as you could expect anybody to," said Milwaukee outfielder Ryan Braun. "He's been a great teammate. He's been a tremendous competitor. He's obviously had a great season for us on the field, and he's been great for us in the clubhouse."

Following a rough April and despite a left wrist injury in June, Pujols ended up hitting .316 with 30 homers over his final 116 games -- business as usual for the legendary slugger who has spent the past decade paving his way to Cooperstown.

Over the course of the past three seasons, Pujols has led the Majors with 126 home runs and a 1.007 OPS. Fielder ranks second in homers (116) and fifth in OPS (.956) over that span.

"[Fielder is] a great player, and I love and admire the way he plays the game," Pujols said. "He goes about his business. We talk a little bit in the season every time I get to first base, just a couple of words to encourage each other. I think he did an unbelievable job to just zoom everything in and concentrate on playing baseball, [instead] of concentrating on whatever else is outside of the game. He did an awesome job.

"I'm pretty sure he's going to continue to do that and hope to advance his team to the next round, just like I am going to do."

Mark Bowman is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.