All-Stars rally Pujols in epic Derby moment

July 19th, 2022

LOS ANGELES -- Albert Pujols didn’t win, but for perhaps the first time in his career, that wasn’t at all the point. Pujols was eliminated in the semifinals of the 2022 T-Mobile Home Run Derby on Monday night, falling by a 16-15 score to Nationals slugger and eventual winner Juan Soto -- but he still provided the most memorable moments of the entire night.

In fact, it’s safe to say that Pujols’ actual result in the Derby will ultimately be a footnote when he thinks back on the experience. A spontaneous outpouring of love and gratitude stopped the Derby in its tracks and provided Pujols with the kind of moment that even a Derby title likely wouldn’t have matched.

At the end of the regularly allotted three minutes of his first-round turn, and before his 30-second bonus time, a few of Pujols’ National League teammates came out to give him a light-hearted ceremonial toweling-down. But that was just the start, as shortly thereafter, all of the assembled NL stars came off the sidelines to honor him. Then the entire AL side came out, honoring the retiring slugger for his magnificent 22-year career.

“It was pretty awesome,” Pujols said. “I want to thank all my peers. … It’s pretty awesome to see this young generation, and all the talent. I want to thank the fans here, Dodger fans, good seeing all of you. Thank you for your support.”

The young players, meanwhile, thought it was pretty awesome to see Pujols as well.

“I think it just happened,” said Padres superstar Manny Machado. “You’re talking about one of the greatest hitters of our time, so it was just more of paying our respects for what he’s been doing. To see it from the side, see that beautiful swing for one last All-Star Game, that was pretty special.”

After the lovefest, Pujols hit three homers, bringing him to 13 total for the opening round. Phillies slugger Kyle Schwarber, the National League home run leader and No. 1 seed for the event, matched him exactly, which led to a swing-off. 

And that’s when Pujols caught fire. He launched seven homers in the allotted minute, posting a mark that Schwarber could not quite match. Pujols advanced, 20-19, bringing thrills to the baseball fans in the stands and on the field alike.

“Albert, he’s a legend,” said Mariners rookie star Julio Rodríguez, who finished as runner-up to Soto. “It’s amazing that I'm here sharing this stage with a legend like that.”

Pujols, who played down the road for the Angels for nine-plus seasons then finished 2021 with the Dodgers, received one of the warmest and loudest ovations during introductions, and had the crowd at Dodger Stadium behind him more and more as he showed he was a real threat to advance out of the first round. The future Hall of Famer tallied a total of 35 homers on the night, giving him 106 in his Derby career.

Facing Cardinals bullpen catcher Kleininger Teran, Pujols started slowly in the first round, hitting one homer before taking a quick timeout less than a minute into his turn. The break seemed to help, as he got into a groove upon returning. He tallied 15 homers in his second round, but Soto was simply too good. But even for the champion, sharing a stage with the legend was one for the memory banks.

“Oh, that was a really special moment,” Soto said.

“When you cheer for him and give him that direct positive energy that things can change, and he showed up after that, and winning that round was amazing. All the guys came in, giving him that good vibes and good energy, and I think it was a special moment for him, and even for ourselves to see the legend go like that."

It marked the fifth time in as many appearances that Pujols has advanced out of the first round of the Derby, making him the only person who can make that claim. He finished as runner-up to Garret Anderson in 2003, losing the final round by one homer despite having the highest total over all three rounds. He was a semifinalist in ’07, ’09 and ’15.

No Cardinals player has won the Derby, but few players with any team have made a mark on one like Pujols did Monday.

“That's Albert,” said Schwarber. “You go to games, and you try and go sit out in the bleachers so you can catch one of his homers. It was a pretty surreal moment. I'm definitely going to try to get one of those pictures blown up and put that up on the wall. That'll stay out there for a long time.”