Albert Pujols became a legend in a St. Louis Cardinals uniform. He rejuvenated his career at Dodger Stadium last season. On Friday, he made history in both.
The Cardinals first baseman hit one home run, then another against the Los Angeles Dodgers to join MLB’s exclusive 700-homer club. He joins the rarified air of Barry Bonds, Hank Aaron and Babe Ruth.
Pujols, who took fourth position on the MLB homer list when he passed Alex Rodriguez’s 696 earlier this month, is also the first player born outside the United States to reach the milestone.
The first homer came in the third inning against Dodgers starter Andrew Heaney, a no-doubter to left field that traveled 434 feet.
One at-bat later, Pujols came up to bat again with two runners on base. Dodgers manager Dave Roberts decided to pull the left-handed Heaney for the right-handed Phil Bickford, but the platoon advantage didn’t matter.
Pujols bashed another ball to left field and entered a club that felt far in the distance just a few years ago. After crossing home plate, he took a detour to embrace fellow Dominican great Adrián Beltré, who was in the front row nearby.
That effort earned Pujols a curtain call even on a road trip. The Dodger Stadium crowd, recognizing the history of the moment and Pujols’ contributions to their team last year, gave him a standing ovation.
The home runs bring Pujols up to 21 on the season and 14 since Aug. 10, an absurd power surge that injected an excitement into the National League only possible with a real home run chase.
Albert Pujols needed to resurrect his career to reach 700
Pujols has been earmarked as a Hall of Fame lock for more than a decade, and yet reaching 700 looked like a tall order for years.
The 42-year-old was the most-feared hitter of a generation during his first stint with the Cardinals, but that status did not continue when he joined the Los Angeles Angels on a record contract ahead of the 2012 season. His decline was sudden, and eventually disheartening.
After a few decent seasons at the plate, Pujols became among the least valuable players in baseball, especially given his increasingly maligned contract. From 2017-20, Pujols posted a .697 OPS and 87 OPS+, which means he hit 13 percent worse than MLB average when adjusted for park and era, from the offensively demanding slots of first base and designated hitter.
As Pujols languished, the possibility of reaching 700 homers felt basically non-existent. He was 38 homers shy of the milestone at the end of 2020 and seemingly running on empty.
That contract became a symbol of the Angels’ ineptitude, and the team ultimately cut its losses last season when he opened the season hitting .198/.250/.372. After getting designated for assignment and clearing waivers, Pujols signed a one-year deal with the Dodgers to basically be the team’s bench bat against left-handed pitchers.
That role would ultimately prove to be a career saver, as Pujols hit .254/.299/.460 with 12 homers in sporadic action for the Dodgers. Allowed to be just one player on a 106-win team, Pujols became a fan favorite and seemed to play with a joy that eluded him in Anaheim.
Pujols announced in March that 2022 would be his final season and opted for a homecoming with the Cardinals to close out his career. For the first half and a little more, his value was basically that of a mascot, as his offense once again dried up. However, he finally found his vintage power stroke in August.
From Aug. 10 to Thursday, Pujols hit .313/.373/.679 with 12 homers, providing a home run chase in the NL to mirror Aaron Judge’s run in the AL. Judge remains one homer short of his own major threshold, but Pujols has finally arrived.
Pujols didn’t need 700 homers to be a legend, but his latest run had been legendary by itself.
Don’t expect Albert Pujols to go after Babe Ruth
Reaching 700 home runs is an enormous achievement, but could Pujols stick around for one more season? He would need, at most, only 14 homers to reach Ruth for third on the all-time list.
Don’t bet on it. Seriously, don’t.
Pujols has made it crystal clear he has no interest in playing beyond 2022. He said it before the season. He said it midway through the season. Heck, he said it in a Los Angeles Times article published Friday
Instead of milestones and positions on a list, Pujols said he is interested in only one more accolade, a championship:
“I don’t chase numbers — I didn’t chase 100 [homers], and I’ve got 698 of them,” Pujols said. “What I’m chasing is another [World Series] ring for the city of St. Louis and our fans. That’s why I signed back this year.”
Whether it’s 700 home runs, or 701, 702, etc., Pujols will retire when the Cardinals’ season is over. He has already delivered plenty with 700.