Pujols insists he doesn't use PEDs

ST. LOUIS -- Albert Pujols relaxed behind a table riser, his right arm draped over the shoulders of his 8-year-old son, and calmly fielded questions in two languages.

Much easier than chasing the Triple Crown. Pujols is used to this type of attention.

The two-time MVP was the centerpiece of the All-Star Game long before it was played, often adding the role of pitchman to his already weighty duties of carrying the St. Louis Cardinals. His mobbed interview session Monday was nothing new -- just another day for baseball's biggest star.

A few hours later, Pujols suited up for the Home Run Derby. On Tuesday night, before batting third in a power-packed NL lineup, he'll catch a ceremonial first pitch from President Barack Obama.

"Probably Wednesday and Thursday I'm going to look back and say, 'Wow, that was unbelievable,'" Pujols said. "Right now you just get caught up doing so many things, you've really lost that focus of 'Wow, you're an All-Star.'"

A clean one, he insists.

Questioned in Spanish about skeptics assuming he uses steroids, Pujols didn't mince words. Defiantly, he said he's put up these astounding numbers without taking shortcuts.

"My house is always open," the slugger said in Spanish. "They can come anytime to do all the tests they want during the offseason.

"I challenge them to try training with me during three months and a half. They can come and check every place in my house, they can even come with me in my bathtub. I have nothing to hide."

Pujols' legacy has become increasingly important to baseball, especially with star sluggers like Barry Bonds, Alex Rodriguez and Manny Ramirez linked to performance-enhancing drugs. Many view Pujols as the sport's best hope -- perhaps its last hope -- to erase the steroid stain in the record books.

Red Sox outfielder Jason Bay said the recent scandals make questions about Pujols "understandable."

"But you can say that about anybody," Bay said. "You've still just got to go out and do your thing and he's done it right from the get-go.

"People can speculate all they want about anyone and anything, but you can't diminish what he's done."

The extracurricular activities that have often filled Pujols' few empty hours -- photo shoots, promotional pieces, in-depth interviews -- obviously have not hurt his game. He leads the majors with 32 home runs and 87 RBIs, and his .332 average is 17 points off the NL lead -- setting up a possible Triple Crown run.

"I think there's no question that he's the best player in baseball," Mets All-Star third baseman David Wright said. "And I think that the gap between him and everybody else has grown a little bit the first half of this season."

The last major leaguer to win a Triple Crown was Boston's Carl Yastrzemski in 1967 -- and the last in the National League was another St. Louis slugger, Ducky Medwick in 1937 .

Still, some opponents think Pujols has a shot.

"He's a guy that just never ceases to amaze me," Wright said.

Pujols is a modern-day menace, in the mold of Mickey Mantle, Hank Aaron and Jimmie Foxx. Pitch to him, you're asking for trouble. Try nipping at the corners, he'll take a walk. And when the game is on the line, nobody's better.

Cardinals catcher Yadier Molina, a first-time All-Star, has been Pujols' teammate and a close friend for five years. Molina cites Pujols' offseason conditioning program and his teetotaling diet as a source of his greatness.

"He eats a lot of rice and chicken. Nothing illegal," Molina said. "He should take bows for what he's doing."

Cardinals closer Ryan Franklin served a 10-day steroids suspension in 2005 while with Seattle and is peaking at age 36 with his first All-Star nod, saving 21 games in 22 chances. He's not one to judge Pujols' exploits.

"You live for now, man, you don't look in the past," Franklin said. "It's right now, and he's the best hitter."

Pujols can be haughty and dismissive, at times stiff-arming questions he's not fond of answering. He can be humble, too.

The inevitable failures are a reminder that while he might make it look it easy, it's not.

"If you were perfect, this game wouldn't be fun," Pujols said. "I wouldn't have to work hard for it."

An acute sense of the game's history also provides perspective.

Pujols is to Cardinals fans this decade what Stan Musial was to the franchise in the 1940s and '50s, and has been tagged with the nickname of "El Hombre." He embraces that moniker only in homage to "The Man," whose likeness is captured in two statues outside Busch Stadium.

Pujols had his first lengthy chat with the 88-year-old Musial a few weeks ago and came away amazed at how relatively little money Musial amassed during a 24-year career. Musial made about $1.5 million; Pujols is in the sixth of a seven-year, $100 million contract.

"I told him, 'How much money do you think you would have made if you would have been playing right now?'" Pujols said. "Imagine. That's unbelievable. That's the pressure I have, to make sure I follow those great players -- Stan the Man, Red Schoendienst, all the great Hall of Famers."