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a baseball losing streak has much in common with writer's block. good writing, like good ballplaying, requires a lack of self-consciousness. it cannot be manufactured; it must be tapped, like sap from a tree. once you get it going, it just flows; you simply slide the bucket into place and stand aside. no need to think about what you're doing; the less, the better. so you watch the clouds drift past, create a mental inventory of errands that need to be run, and otherwise occupy your mind while the bucket fills with sap -- or the page fills with words, or the back of the baseball card fills with good stats. you didn't really make the stuff; it simply oozed out while you were standing nearby. but you still get to put your name on it, so everything's cool.

when you're writing, once in a while you tap a dry vein; cost of doing business. no great loss most of the time; you just look for another soft spot in the bark, drill the tap back in, start the flow and go back to idling. but if you hit a few dry veins in a row, that can lead to trouble. that can make you nervous, to the point that stop trying to gather sap and start trying to manufacture it. you write and write and write and write and write and write, and it just won't come -- so you try harder, and the harder you try the lousier you write. you drill tap after tap, but you don't really expect any of them to flow -- don't really even give them a chance, because you don't feel like you can afford to wait. the more urgently you try to reassure yourself that you can still produce a readable paragraph, the more you create the opposite reality: you can not write. not a blasted word flows -- only a current of doubt and fear. you completely suck, and you know that certain of your (former) friends and relatives have gathered somewhere to exchange smirks and high-fives.

once this point is reached, obviously, there is no chance whatsoever that good writing will take place -- to say nothing of good baseball. but you have work (or games) on the schedule, and it's got to get done; you can't simply quit. so you continue to labor fruitlessly, with no hope of success, until at some point -- usually as you're sitting before a blank word-processing screen, thinking about your future career as a bank robber -- a decent sentence creeps up on you. the odor of sap suffuses your nostils; you take your first full breath in days. you stop running around like a headless chicken and ease back into a different, more productive headless state -- unself-consciousness. stuff starts to flow again; you nudge your bucket into position, go back to watching clouds drift, and forget what a crappy writer you really are.

pujols' homer last night might prove to be that unexpected, out-of-nowhere good sentence creeping up on the cardinals. it might help them forget what a crappy team they are; might get them back to letting sap flow, as opposed to playing like saps. and if that does prove to be the case, the greater the glory of st. albert. unlike the blocked writer or the choking baseball player, pujols doesn't have to wait for stuff to start flowing again; he just puts his arms around the tree and squeezes it out. he can make it flow. i've only seen one other cardinal player who had a will forceful enough to do that: bob gibson.

that ability is what makes pujols the mvp; that alone has separated the cardinals from their competitors in the national league central this season.

if i may go macro with this trope --- pujols has been the sublimely worded draft that redeems the mound of crumpled up pages, the false starts and flawed outlines and amateurish gibberish, that have come off the 2006 cardinals' typewriter. just to watch him -- that alone has made this writer-blocked season endurable. years after we've forgotten the ill will toward the ownership, the collapse of the rotation, the overexposure of injured players, the patch 'n' paste roster moves, the long losing streaks and clusters of walkoff defeats -- years after we've forgotten all of that, we'll still remember the stuff albert did this season. and go back to read and re-read it. what was first said of him back on april 17 -- in a post titled "one-man team" -- remains true on september 27. all together, now:

you can beat the cardinals this year, but you still can't beat pujols.

albert deserves full authorship of the win last night, but anthony reyes should get a prominent mention in the acknowledgments. the kid crafted a nice little start. la russa said in the postgame last night that reyes "doesn't spook"; well put. the rookie never really did establish a rhythm last night, kept running into dry veins, but he didn't panic -- kept his cool, stayed patient, waited for things to start flowing again. at no point did he look like a player waiting to fail; his backbone was as stiff as the brim of his hat.

that kind of stubbornness is a virtue.

the cardinals didn't clinch anything last night, and they are hardly out of danger; far from it. but they are -- we may hope -- out of the cycle of self-defeat that produces blocked writers and epic choke jobs.