There was one out in the fourth inning when the 25-year-old Phelps was called on after starter Phil Hughes was pounded for six runs. Howie Kendrick had just chased Hughes with a three-run home run. And Pujols, the imposing nine-time All-Star, already had a single and RBI double in his first two at-bats.
Phelps retired Pujols on a line drive to center and proceeded to allow only one hit -- a home run by Vernon Wells -- and two walks in 51/3 innings.
He retired Pujols twice more -- on a fly ball and line drive -- and struck out four. When he left the game with two outs in the ninth inning, he received a generous ovation from the 46,829 customers at Yankee Stadium.
"It was awesome,'' Phelps said of the fans' appreciation, "especially in a game like that, when we're down and they're still supporting us as much as they do.''
A native of St. Louis, Phelps said he has "been rooting'' for Pujols "pretty much my whole life. He's intimidating. I was pretty much leaving it in Russ's [catcher Martin's] hands. Whatever pitch he was going to call, I was going to throw it with conviction, trying to pound the bottom of the zone.
"I've been to numerous Cardinals games. I wondered what it would be like to pitch to him. It was actually cool to go out there and do it. Any time you can get him out three times in a row, you chalk it up. It doesn't happen too often.''
In his first three major-league appearances, Phelps has a 1.08 ERA, allowing one run, one hit and two walks in 81/3 innings and striking out nine.
"He has made quality pitches,'' Girardi said, "and with four different pitches too -- fastball, curveball, slider, change.
"We knew he could give us distance. Are we looking for him to make a start? No. But we're looking for him to do what he did today.''
Drafted by the Yankees in 2008, Phelps attended Notre Dame, so it was a big deal when Cardinal Timothy Dolan approached Phelps at the team's welcome-home dinner Thursday.
"I have two cousins on my wife's side who are priests,'' Phelps said. "Any time you get to meet someone who lives the life of faith, it's great. Especially with the Cardinal being from St. Louis, it's awesome.''
Plus there was the secular angle. Said Phelps, "He's a big Yankees fan.''