ST. LOUIS -- Even though the 27th sellout crowd of the season jammed inside Busch Stadium to celebrate Albert Pujols joining the 700 home run club last week and watch the final regular-season series of his illustrious career, he said it’s easy to control his emotions because he feels he has plenty more opportunities to play baseball in St. Louis before he retires.
“Hopefully my last game is going to be in November in the World Series,” Pujols said candidly after hitting the 701st home run of his career to help the Cardinals defeat the Pirates 2-1 on Friday. “So, I don’t think about [this final regular-season series] like that. Hopefully, we have a lot of games left.”
Pujols jumped all over a hanging slider from Pirates pitcher Johan Oviedo and hit it 398 feet into the third level of the left-field stands for No. 701. That extended his NL/AL record to 456 pitchers he’s homered against over his 22-year career. Pujols, 42, came into the season trailing Barry Bonds in that category, but he’s since sailed into the lead with a second-half power surge.
Pujols was treated to a standing ovation before the game when he received an engraved golden bat from the Cardinals to celebrate his entry into the 700 home run club. Fans who cheered wildly before each at-bat fell strangely silent seconds before each pitch to Pujols. Then, with thousands of phones thrust into the air to record the moment, they came alive again when Pujols’ blast cleared the wall.
Those fans gave Pujols another curtain call, and he acknowledged it by coming out of the dugout, doffing his helmet and lovingly tapping his chest.
“It’s pretty awesome to get back here because I knew it was going to be like this,” Pujols said. “It’s pretty good to be embraced by the fans like this. This is what I’ve been getting all year, but tonight was extra special after reaching the milestone of 700. It was a great night overall -- a night I shared with my teammates, my family that were in the stands and, obviously, we came out with a huge win.”
Pujols’ power has had an enormous impact on the Cardinals, champions of the NL Central who will host the Wild Card Series at Busch Stadium next Friday. They are now 16-1 this season when Pujols homers and seven of his last nine home runs have either tied the game or given the Cardinals the lead. That was the case on Friday, when Pujols’ home run knotted the game at 1-1.
“I like when he hits home runs,” Cardinals manager Oliver Marmol joked. “We all feed off [Pujols], and it’s big swings in big moments. That’s the whole conversation. It’s not just a homer here and there when we’re down six [runs] or up eight. He’s tying up ballgames or putting you ahead.”
Pujols joined Bonds (762 home runs), Hank Aaron (755) and Babe Ruth (714) as the only members of the exclusive 700 home run club last Friday night at Dodger Stadium. That night, Pujols hit home runs 699 (off left-hander Andrew Heaney) and 700 (off righty Phil Bickford) to the delight of fans in the ballpark he called home last season. Those blasts gave him 500 against right-handers -- now 501 -- and 200 off left-handers.
Friday’s home run was the 215th of Pujols’ career in St. Louis, with 121 coming at Busch Stadium III and 94 coming at Busch Stadium II. He’s hit 332 home runs in his home ballpark and 369 on the road.
“I wish all 700 of them would have been as a Cardinal, but we got to see the majority of them. We’re very blessed,” said Pujols' teammate and close friend Adam Wainwright. “We tried to do the math the other day and we may never see 700 again. Even the math with the great Aaron Judge -- he’s got to hit 48 home runs [each of] the next 10 years to match [Pujols], so Albert has set the standard very high for all the players coming behind him.”
Pujols’ homer on Friday, which left the bat at 102.6 mph and had 5.6 seconds of hangtime, per Statcast, was the 55th home run of his career against the Pirates. That’s Pujols' third-most against any foe, trailing only the Astros (62) and Cubs (59).
"I think we're seeing one of the best hitters of our generation,” said Pirates manager Derek Shelton, whose team has yielded five homers to Pujols this season. “He's had an unbelievable second half. What he's done over the course of his career, and especially what he's done over this second half, is extremely special."