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Old 04-06-2010, 01:19 AM   #1
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Default Jones turns into Pirates' Pujols

Jones turns into Pirates' Pujols
Tuesday, April 06, 2010
By Ron Cook, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
Since July 1, Albert Pujols of the St. Louis Cardinals has hit 19 home runs. That includes the two he smoked Monday in an 11-6 opening-day win at Cincinnati.

Since July 1, Garrett Jones of the Pirates has hit 23 home runs. He also had two Monday in an 11-5 win against the Los Angeles Dodgers on a spectacular afternoon of baseball at PNC Park.

Pujols is the best player in the game today. He's one of the best of all time. He led the big leagues with 47 home runs last season. He drove in 135 runs. He won the National League Most Valuable Player award for the second consecutive season. He is ...

"The greatest hitter ever," Jones gushed.

So what does that say about Jones?

OK, the man is no Pujols. No one of sane mind is going to suggest that. If Jones averages 41 home runs and 124 RBIs for nine consecutive seasons -- as Pujols has done -- we'll revisit that comparison.

But is it really so wild to think that Jones could challenge the great Pujols for the home run title this season?

Maybe, but crazier things have happened in baseball.

Such as Jones making the majors to stay in July at the very old age of 28, hitting 21 home runs in 82 games and averaging a home run every 15 at-bats.

There's only way to describe that production.


"What a great name to be associated with," Jones said. "I don't think he's too worried about me, though. If he's thinking about me at all, I'd be honored."

Clearly, humility is one of Jones' more admirable traits. But don't get the wrong idea. He's not going to concede anything to anybody.

Not even to a certain slugger in St. Louis.

"I want to see what I can do over a full season," Jones said.

It's hard to imagine a guy getting off to a better start, although, as Jones noted, "[Pujols] had four hits today. I only had two." That's true, but the Pirates hardly are complaining. They are a team that figures to struggle to score runs all season. Jones provided their first three with home runs against Dodgers starter Vicente Padilla, the first in the first inning flying out of the park and bouncing into the Allegheny River after going an estimated 456 feet, the second in the third inning little more than a pop fly that settled perfectly in the first row of seats just inside the left-field foul pole.

"Three hundred-and-21 feet or in the river, they all count the same," Jones said, grinning.

To top off Jones' fabulous day, he made two superb catches in right field. He raced in to grab a bloop by Rafael Furcal in the first inning and raced in harder to get to Ronnie Belliard's sinking liner in the sixth.

"I couldn't have dreamt it any better," Jones said of his first opening day in the big leagues.


Not when the sellout crowd of 39,024 chanted "M-V-P" after his second home run.

"It was awesome," Jones said. "That crowd pumps you up so much. You feel so strong at the plate and in the field ...

"It's only one game, but it's a great way to start the season."

Here's the really neat part of the Jones story:

There were many days when he couldn't bring himself to dream of making the majors, so unrealistic did that goal seem. He nearly quit the game after the Atlanta Braves released him in 2002 and often wondered why he didn't during the next six seasons, most of which he spent lost in the Minnesota Twins' minor league system. His big league time before last season: 31 games with the Twins in 2007 when he hit .208 with two home runs in 77 at-bats.

That's what made Jones' work with the Pirates last season so astonishing. True baseball phenoms aren't usually 28 when they have their first success. They don't usually take 10-plus years to stick with a major-league club. Jones, although not saying he was surprised by all those home runs last season, acknowledged that he refused to celebrate them "because I knew I could be sent down the next game or the next week."

Those days are past.

"That's what he's capable of doing," Pirates manager John Russell said of Jones' big day Monday and his fine half-season last year. "People continue to question him. I don't really know why. This guy is a good baseball player."

Jones certainly is opening eyes around here for all of the right reasons.

If his staggering home-run pace continues, he'll open eyes all over baseball.

Including a pair in St. Louis.

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