Celebrate Albert Pujols' 600th career home run with 10 of his best ever
Six hundred home runs. It boggles the mind to even look at that number. Only nine players have pulled it off, as it requires immense strength, skill and health in a game that always looks to feast upon you.
1. The first - April 6, 2001 vs. D-backs
Unlike a highly-touted prospect such as Ken Griffey Jr., no one foresaw this kind of career for Pujols. He was drafted in the 13th round and topped out as the No. 42 prospect in baseball before the 2001 season -- hardly the kind of ranking you'd expect for one of history's greatest batters.
After leading the Cardinals in total bases during Spring Training just a month before, Pujols got the callup. But like many a rookie, he struggled -- going 1-for-9 in his first three games.
Then, facing Armando Reynoso on April 6, 2001, he unveiled that powerful, flat stroke that we'd fall in love with.
"After watching this kid in batting practice, that will not nearly be his last," said Thom Brennaman as Pujols rounded the bases. He probably had no idea just how right he would be.
2. The unstoppable closer meets the immovable force - Game 5, 2005 NLCS
Lidge was Houston's lights-out closer entering the 2005 postseason. He posted a 2.29 ERA in the regular season and gave up just one run in his first eight postseason innings.
Then Albert happened.
One win away from the World Series, the Astros held a 4-2 lead into the top of the ninth. Lidge retired the first two batters in the inning before a David Eckstein single and a Jim Edmonds walk brought Pujols to the plate as the go-ahead run.
Unfortunately, Lidge left the ball up. You don't need a scouting report to tell you that this is the Kenny Loggins Danger Zone:
The next year, Lidge's ERA rose to 5.28. Coincidence or did Pujols break the closer? Though Lidge would return to dominance again with the Astros and Phillies, he wouldn't have the upper-hand on Pujols: The Cards slugger went 5-for-13 with a home run and three walks against Lidge in their subsequent faceoffs.
3. Three home runs with a walk-off - April 16, 2006 vs. Reds
Pujols has four three-homer games in his career, but his best likely came this day against the Reds.
He knotted the game at 4 with a two-run shot off Bronson Arroyo, extended the Cards' lead to 6-4 with a home run in the seventh and then, trailing 7-6 in the bottom of the ninth, launched a two-run home run off closer David Weathers.
He pulled all three down the line, but unfortunately for the fans at this matinee, no one would walk home with this souvenir. Here's the landing spot:
4. Three homers in a World Series game - Game 3, 2011 World Series
Get ready for the rule of threes: In Game 3 of the 2011 Series, Pujols became just the third player to hit three dingers in a World Series game. He joined pretty good company, with only Babe Ruth and Reggie Jackson equaling the feat (Pablo Sandoval joined this group in the next season's Fall Classic).
Even better: he began his homer-fest in the sixth inning. When Pujols started, the Cardinals were winning, 8-6, over the Rangers. When he finished: The Cards won 16-7. Not bad, Prince Albert.
5. Knocks out the lights - May 21, 2009 vs. Cubs
Big Mac Land was the place to be when Mark McGwire was blasting home runs in his record-breaking season. So it's somewhat fitting that Pujols managed to knock out the lights.
I'm not sure how electrical systems are supposed to work, but you'd think they should be able to hold up to a baseball. They must not have factored in the sheer power of a Pujols blast.
6. The longest home run - April 22, 2007 vs. Cubs
This pre-Statcast-era shot off Ryan Dempster, estimated at 469 feet, didn't just go a long way; it straight up left Wrigley Field. Woe be to any passersby outside the park that day.
As if the distance weren't enough, it was also the game-winning three-run shot in the 12th inning:
7. The upper-decker - Sept. 4, 2006 vs. Nationals
Do you want to see a ball absolutely crushed? Do you want to see Pujols nearly get his bat to stand up on its own? This is a two-for-one situation:
8. The 19th-inning shot - Aug. 9, 2014 vs. Red Sox
Naturally, for a game that started at 6 p.m. and had gone well past midnight, it couldn't just end. It required an umpire review after the Angels slugger put the ball over the wall (momentarily).
Somehow, Pujols even had enough energy to slide into the plate when he finished rounding the bases:
9. Nos. 499 and 500 in a single game - April 22, 2014 vs. Nationals
Hitting a milestone home run is supposed to be stressful. That didn't happen to The Machine. After hitting his 499th home run against the Nationals in the first inning, Pujols didn't worry. Four innings later, he smashed No. 500 to join a very special list.
10. Pujols' season-saving home run - Sept. 27, 2006 vs. Padres
After posting losing records in each of the last two months of the 2006 season, the Cardinals snuck into the postseason with just 83 wins to take the NL Central by just 1 1/2 games over the Astros.
If not for Pujols, they probably wouldn't have made the playoffs -- and therefore, wouldn't have won the World Series. The first baseman hit a blistering .373/.465/.700 with 10 home runs over the final month, including this home run that may have saved the season. With the Cardinals trailing the Padres, 2-1, in the bottom of the eighth, Pujols stepped up to face sidearmer Cla Meredith, who was brought on just to face Pujols.