ST. LOUIS -- To put into perspective the tear Albert Pujols has been on of late while nearing the end of his 22nd and final MLB season, the Cardinals’ slugger has either tied or passed the likes of baseball immortals Ty Cobb, Babe Ruth, Hank Aaron and Willie Mays in the record books in recent days with his jaw-dropping exploits.
Hearing those kinds of all-time names in baseball history has become something of a running joke in the Cardinals dugout and clubhouse, with baseballs being thrown out of play and bound for Pujols’ trophy case because of the slugger’s accomplishments. One of Pujols’ teammates, Lars Nootbaar -- someone who grew up idolizing the slugger throughout his childhood -- lent some insight into what the updated all-time baseball record books look like with the Cardinals legend continuing to climb the charts.
“We were talking about this the other day, about the people [in the record books], and I said, ‘It’s Albert Pujols and a bunch of people in black and white,’” Nootbaar said after Pujols hit a pinch-hit grand slam in the Cardinals’ 13-0 defeat of the Rockies on Thursday afternoon at Busch Stadium. “That’s what it is, and it’s really unbelievable.”
In the middle of tying an accomplishment set previously by Ruth, Aaron and one other player, Pujols also notched a career first on Thursday. With the clout, which was the 690th home run of his career, Pujols now has 16 career grand slams, tying him for 10th all-time with Ruth, Aaron and Dave Kingman. While the 374-foot shot, which left his bat at 105.1 mph, was also Pujols’ sixth pinch-hit homer, it was the first time in his illustrious career he had a pinch-hit grand slam.
“It was just about execution and a really good moment, just like what happened on Sunday,” Pujols said, referring to the weekend win over Milwaukee during which he had his 63rd multi-home run game to match Mays in the record books. “I’m just glad I was able to come through and help the guys win. Hopefully we can continue to play the way we have this whole month.”
With his team already leading 6-0 in the third inning, Cardinals manager Oliver Marmol played to his aggressive nature as a manager and turned to Pujols to pinch-hit with the bases loaded and a left-hander on the mound. The move certainly made sense with the way Pujols has hit left-handers this season. He has hit seven of his 11 home runs off left-handers and he came into Thursday with a 1.054 OPS against southpaw pitchers. Since the MLB All-Star Game -- when Pujols was an honorary pick for the Midsummer Classic -- the slugger has hit .415 with a 1.321 OPS, five homers and 15 RBIs.
Almost apologetically, Pujols went up to Brendan Donovan -- who had four hits in his previous five at-bats -- and reassured him that the team had confidence in the rookie even though he had been pulled from the game in the third inning. Dumbfounded that Pujols would feel the need to apologize for pinch-hitting for him, Donovan offered up a response that made both break out in laughter.
“[Pujols] said to me, ‘I have faith in you,’ and I said to him, ‘I’d rather watch you do that! That was fun to watch,’” said Donovan, who had three hits on Wednesday and two more on Thursday before getting pulled in favor of Pujols in the third inning.
The 42-year-old Pujols’ achievements on Thursday were so considerable that he reduced close friend Adam Wainwright to a footnote even though the 40-year-old pitcher threw seven scoreless innings while allowing just three hits. According to the Elias Sports Bureau, it was the first time in MLB history that a 40-year-old player hit a grand slam and a 40-year-old pitcher threw at least seven scoreless innings for the same team in the same game.
As Pujols was being asked a question about what it would take to get him to return next season, catcher and close friend Yadier Molina began chanting “One more year! One more year! One more year!” from the dressing stall nearby. That sparked plenty of laughter from Pujols, who is now six home runs shy of tying Alex Rodriguez for fourth all-time and 10 home runs from 700 – a mark achieved only by Barry Bonds, Aaron and Ruth in baseball history.
“For sure, I’ll be here one more year -- I’m coming to see Yadi and Waino pitch,” Pujols joked even though the 40-year-old Molina has already announced this would be his final season as well. “I’ll come and give them [grief] and ask them, ‘Why didn’t you retire?’ I’ll definitely be here for sure -- watching these guys from the stands. I’m sure about that.”