David Freese applies the tag to Chase Utley after Albert Pujols fired a throw across the diamond. UPI/Bill Greenblatt

Whenever the discussion has come up over the last few years as to who the best player in baseball is, I’ve always answered Albert Pujols. Yes, that’s the easy answer when you look at his batting stats, but it goes well beyond that. I’ve heard arguments for A-Rod, Ichiro, even pitchers, but I’ve always said that Albert Pujols is the smartest player in the game today and his head’s up play in the sixth inning of Game 4 of the NL Division Series was added proof.

Albert Pujols, Tony La Russa, Charlie Manuel comment on Pujols’ play

TBS flashed a graphic on the screen yesterday showing that Pujols has shared MVP honors over the last six seasons with Ryan Howard and Joey Votto, also first basemen in the NL. However, those players won the award based on offensive numbers, but Pujols plays the game the way it is suppose to be played. Pujols gives the same effort as a guy who is the 25th man on the roster who is busting his butt to stick with the team.

In the sixth inning, Edwin Jackson walked Chase Utley and on a 3-2 count to Hunter Pence, Utley took off for second base. A routine grounder to Rafael Furcal would have led to an easy 6-4-3 double play had Utley not gone with the pitch. Furcal’s only option was an out at first.

There is a “Cardinal” sin in baseball…never make the first or last out of an inning at third base. As Furcal threw to first, Utley turned the corner at second and darted for third figuring he would make it 90 feet before Furcal’s throw to first and a throw from Pujols back across the diamond would beat him. In an instant, Pujols saw Utley take off and jumped off the bag and cut Furcal’s throw off and fired across to David Freese who was waiting, holding the ball in his glove as Utley flipped and flopped his way to third for the inning’s first out. If Pujols does not react, Utley is on third with one out in a 5-2 game. Instead, Pence is at first and Ryan Howard’s fly ball to center becomes simply the second out of the inning instead of a sac fly.

This is just another example of the things I notice from Pujols on a routine basis. His baseball I.Q. is unmatched.