This story appears in the latest edition of ESPN The Magazine.
It's the top of the fourth inning of the 136th game of the 2005 season. The Cardinals may be rolling into the playoffs, but the Astros are leading 1-0. At the plate is Albert Pujols, in his 504th at-bat, and we might as well reveal that nothing epic will take place. No booming home run over Tal's Hill. Not even one of Pujols' patented thunderbolt doubles off the left-field wall.
In the annals of Pujols' nearly unprecedented five-year career, this September at-bat is a snowflake in the blizzard, so apparently lacking in drama that Pujols himself, when asked about it the next day, will wonder what all the fuss is about. But it's still an at-bat, a Pujols at-bat, and the moment and its aftermath shed another sliver of light on the greatness of him -- the booming home runs, yes, and the thunderbolt doubles, sure, but also the tiny details, tangible and intangible, that turn a player from merely spectacular into an icon.