Pujols lets emotions flow after joining 700 Home Run Club

42-year-old slugger hits pair of dingers to join Bonds, Aaron and Ruth in elite group

September 24th, 2022

LOS ANGELES -- After further solidified his baseball greatness by bashing two long balls into the Southern California night -- vaulting him into the exclusive 700 Home Run Club -- he high-fived close friend Adrian Beltré, celebrated with his Cardinals teammates, then retreated to a tunnel where the superstar allowed his emotions to pour from his every pore.

In that tunnel, just steps away from the Cardinals dugout, the serious-minded slugger, who spoke often this season about wishing he had been able to enjoy this Hall of Fame-bound journey more, finally dropped his guard and surrendered to his feelings. The calm and cool shown on the field morphed into a calamity of emotions down below the dugout. Pujols, seemingly overwhelmed by the magnitude of the moment, squatted and bawled.

“I didn’t control them,” Pujols said of his emotions after the game as he was surrounded by his family. “If you see the video of the homer, I went down into the tunnel and that’s when I let my emotions out.”

Cardinals manager Oliver Marmol, Pujols’ close friend and someone who pushed for the slugger to be signed with a week left in Spring Training, glanced down the tunnel and saw a squatting Pujols with his head in his hands. Marmol, someone who has known Pujols for more than 15 years and lives in a St. Louis-area house owned by the slugger, said seeing that sort of raw emotion from someone who has accomplished so much will be his lasting memory of the historic night.

“It was cool when he got away from everything and he went into that tunnel by himself and he was taking it all in; that’s probably the coolest part of it for me,” said Marmol, whose Cardinals cut their magic number to four by beating the Dodgers 11-0.

“Him, by himself -- with no cameras -- I just sat there and watched him a little bit. I’m not sure what was exactly going through his head, but he was taking it all in. He was crouched down and his hands were in his face. It wasn’t a part of the show and everything that was going on [on the field]. It was him realizing all he had just accomplished, and it was pretty damn cool.”

The 42-year-old Pujols, who has said this is the final season of his 22-year career, joined Barry Bonds (762 home runs), Hank Aaron (755) and Babe Ruth (714) as the only sluggers in AL/NL history to hit at least 700 long balls in his career. Pujols and Aaron are the only two with at least 3,000 hits and 700 home runs. Like Aaron, Pujols got to the 700 club without a 50-home run season.

After circling the bases, Pujols went straight over to Beltré for a high-five through the netting. He was then greeted outside of the dugout by his Cardinals teammates. Not only did the crowd at Dodger Stadium give him a standing ovation, the Cardinals slugger was greeted with chants of “Pu-jols! Pu-jols! Pu-jols” and “Al-bert! Al-bert! Al-bert!”

Pujols said it was fitting and special for him to hit the home run in Los Angeles -- the spot he spent the previous 11 seasons and where his children now live. Hitting the two home runs in Los Angeles allowed his family to be on hand for the historic night.

“What a special night,” Pujols said. “To have my family in town and to do it at Dodger Stadium. I said it earlier, my joy, pretty much, of this game came back last year [while playing for the Dodgers] and being in the postseason. It’s pretty special with the Dodgers fans here, and I get both sides of this. [The Dodgers] get to enjoy this and I get to do it with a Cardinals uniform, which makes it even more special. I’m just thanking God.”

Pujols hit No. 699 against left-handed pitcher Andrew Heaney in the third inning and Dodgers manager Dave Roberts went to the bullpen for right-hander Phil Bickford before Pujols stepped to the plate. He then he smashed another long ball off Bickford to move into the No. 700 club.

Asked what message he might have for Bickford, his Dodgers teammate last season, Pujols said: “I’m going to tell him thank you for hanging that slider!”

Following Friday’s two home runs, Pujols has 500 home runs off right-handed pitchers and 200 off left-handed pitchers.

Pujols also hit his 499th and 500th home runs in the same game for the Angels against the Nationals in D.C. on April 22, 2014. Both of Friday’s home runs were no-doubters the moment they left Pujols’ famed two-toned bat: The blast off Heaney left the bat at 108 mph and traveled 434 feet – his fourth-longest home run of the season and one that would have been a home run in all 30 MLB parks, per Statcast. On the 700th home run, Pujols drilled a center-cut 80.8 mph slider from Bickford high into the LA night (5.9 seconds of hang time) for a home run that traveled 389 feet.

Friday’s home runs are Pujols’ 20th and 21st of the season. The veteran slugger joins Aaron (20) and Bonds (19) as the only players with at least 18 seasons of 20 or more homers.

It was his fourth multi-home run game of the season and the 61st time he has hit at least two home runs in a game.

“I just had a lot of sensations and I told AP after the game that I almost cried,” said Cardinals starting pitcher Jose Quintana, who has faced Pujols and is now a teammate of his following an Aug. 1 trade. “I was trying to keep my focus on the game, but what Albert did was amazing. He’s a great, he’s a legend and I’m never going to forget this night.”

Pujols’ dinger in the third inning extended his AL/NL record to 454 pitchers he has homered off of during his career, and he pushed that number to 455 in the fourth inning off Bickford. He came into the season second to Bonds (449), but he passed him on Aug. 29 in Cincinnati and has continued to extend the record with a flurry of post-All-Star break home runs.

“At first, I was upset that I gave up the home run,” Bickford. “When the crowd reacted, seeing all the smiles, it was a very special moment for MLB and Albert Pujols is also one of the most amazing people I’ve ever met. After I got over being upset at giving up the home run, toward the very end of it, it was obviously a special moment.

”He’s the nicest guy ever,” Bickford added, referring to the relationship he built with Pujols when the slugger played 85 games with the Dodgers – and hit 12 home runs – last season. “He’s a big old teddy bear. He’s someone that you just have nothing but great things to say about. He’s a very kind person, anybody that meets him I’m sure would say he’s excellent.”

Pujols hit home run No. 698 on Sept. 16 at St. Louis’ Busch Stadium to help the Cardinals rally from a three-run deficit and defeat the Reds.

Pujols went 0-for-9 in the next three games, preventing him from pulling closer to 700 in front of sellout crowds at Busch Stadium. Some 94,977 fans packed Busch Stadium for Saturday’s doubleheader in hopes of seeing Pujols go on a run to 700. Another 47,909 fans – comprising the Cardinals’ 26th sellout of the season and the sixth-largest crowd in the 16-year history of Busch Stadium III – attended Sunday’s game only to see Pujols and the Cardinals get shut out.

Earlier in the week, when the Cardinals were in one of their worst offensive slumps while facing the Padres in San Diego, Pujols insisted that he wasn’t chasing 700 home runs. He also said that he would be fully content with his place in the history of baseball even if he didn’t get to 700 home runs. What brought him back for a 22nd season -- and back to St. Louis, he insisted -- was the chance to win a third World Series ring.

“I’m not chasing anything,” Pujols said adamantly on Tuesday. “I’ve never chased any numbers and 22 years later I’m definitely not going to chase anything. In my career, I’ve been so blessed with everything that I’ve accomplished in my life.

“What I’m chasing right now is another ring,” Pujols continued. “That’s what I’m chasing for the City of St. Louis and for our fans and that’s why I signed back this year. Going back to St. Louis, I knew we were going to have a great ballclub and hopefully get the chance (to win a championship) and hopefully finish this chapter that I started 21 years ago.”

No. 699 was the sixth time in the past seven Pujols home runs that either tied the game or put the Cardinals in the lead. Also, there is this statistic to back up how important Pujols has been to the Cardinals’ ascension to the top of the NL Central: The Cardinals are 16-1 in the games in which Pujols had homered and 4-0 in the instances when he clubbed two home runs in a game.

“This is what he’s known for -- doing big things in big moments -- and I told the club afterward during our toast is he’s helping us win and his whole thing before coming back and signing was, ‘I can help you win a championship.’” Marmol said. “This is pretty special to be a part of this 700th home run as he’s helping us win. And for him to do it in this Cardinals uniform makes it more special.”

Among his major milestone home runs, Pujols blasted his first home run (2001), his 100th (2003) and 500th (2014) while playing on the road. He now has 466 homers as a Cardinal, 222 as an Angel and 12 with the Dodgers.

Homers No. 699 and 700 were the 21st and 22nd of Pujols’ career against the Dodgers and his 18th and 19th at Dodger Stadium -- one of the 40 past and present MLB ballparks he has homered in. Having his family on hand, he said, played a major role in his emotions pouring out in that tunnel near the Cardinals dugout.

“Why [so much emotion]? Because of this, my beautiful family,” Pujols said. “After the Lord, this is who I play for. They’ve been walking through this journey and through the ups and downs, through the cries, the hurt and the injuries and knowing they have my back. Them being a part of this history means everything to me.”

MLB.com Dodgers reporter Juan Toribio contributed to this story.