Pujols joins elites with 21 straight OD starts

April 2nd, 2021

ANAHEIM -- joined some rare company on Thursday, as the veteran first baseman became one of only four players to start on Opening Day for 21 straight seasons to start a career, joining , and .

Rose holds the record with 23 straight Opening Day starts from 1963-85, while Pujols joined Murray and Kaline for second. For context, there have been nearly 20,000 players in history to reach the Majors, yet only three -- Rose, Carl Yastrzemski (22) and Hank Aaron (22) -- have started in more Opening Day games than Pujols.

"For me, I just give all the glory to God first, to be able to stay healthy for 21 straight seasons for Opening Day is amazing,” Pujols said. “Another thing is that I give credit to my trainers. My training that I put in, day in, day out in the offseason has allowed me to stay healthy in Spring Training and be able to accomplish this. But to me, as great [a] milestone as it is, I try to just take it like another Opening Day and try to go out there and do the best that I can to help our team to win tonight."

Pujols, 41, is no stranger to milestones, as he’s the only player in Major League history with at least 650 homers and 650 doubles. The 10-time All-Star won National League MVP Awards with the Cardinals in 2005, '08 an '09 and the World Series in '06 and '11. So, Angels manager Joe Maddon wasn’t surprised to hear Pujols joined more elite company on Thursday. He said he put Pujols in the lineup over Jared Walsh to keep the incredible streak going, especially after Pujols had a productive Spring Training offensively.

"It is amazing," Maddon said. "You really got to stop and wrap your mind around it to understand that to be that pertinent in a difficult sport like this, it's almost impossible. This isn't football where you play once a week. But it's a tribute to how well he takes care of himself as much as it is being good."

There’s not much left for Pujols to accomplish in his storied career, but he enters the season with 662 homers and has a remote shot at reaching 700 if he plays beyond this year. Despite his wife, Deidre, posting on social media that it was going to be the last year of Pujols’ career in early February -- and quickly amending her post to say it was the last year of his 10-year contract -- Pujols has clarified that he hasn’t made a decision just yet.

“We’ll see at the end of the year,” Pujols said. “We'll see where I'm at, especially with my body and health. And I'll talk to my wife and family and see what's in their heart. I've been playing for a long time and I still have the passion and the love. But if I feel that passion and love isn't there, then there's no need to come back because I feel like I have given so much to this game, and this game has given me so much."

Ohtani healthy, ready for Sunday start

Two-way star Shohei Ohtani left Monday’s exhibition start against the Dodgers with a blister on his right middle finger but it has responded well to treatment, head athletic trainer Adam Nevala told Maddon. Ohtani was in the lineup as the designated hitter on Opening Day and remains on track to start on the mound in the series finale Sunday. The only question is whether he’ll be in the lineup on Saturday, the day ahead of his start.

"Last time I spoke with Adam, he said he was fine and that he expects it to be no issue, at all," Maddon said. "He’ll be out there today and tomorrow, for sure. And then he will let me know what he wants to do the day before he pitches. It just seems that might be the day that he likes to rest a little bit. But I don’t know because he expressed to me in Spring Training that he wanted to play in all the games."

Angels tidbits
• Maddon believes the Angels have already have 85 percent of their players vaccinated, which is the threshold for looser restrictions this season. Clubs were informed on Monday that MLB and the MLBPA have agreed to relax certain health and safety protocols contained in the 2021 Operations Manual for fully vaccinated Tier 1 Individuals and for clubs where 85 percent of their Tier 1 Individuals are fully vaccinated. As part of that memo, players and staff were again strongly encouraged to receive one of the approved COVID-19 vaccines when eligible.

• Pujols isn’t the only Angels player with an impressive Opening Day streak, as superstar Mike Trout made his ninth consecutive start in center field, which is the third-longest streak at one position in club history behind Tim Salmon (11) and Jim Fregosi (nine). Pujols is only one of five players in team history with at least 10 Opening Day starts, joining Garret Anderson (13), Salmon (12), Brian Downing (11) and Darin Erstad (10).