LOS ANGELES -- Nobody knows how the Albert Pujols experiment will end for the Dodgers. That was part of what president of baseball operations Andrew Friedman and manager Dave Roberts communicated to the future Hall of Famer. And that was what Pujols appreciated.
So far, it has worked out even better than the two sides imagined. The Dodgers added another veteran and a capable bat off the bench who could also get starts at first base, and Pujols has found new life and energy while wearing the Dodger Blue.
During his first press conference as a Dodger, Pujols waved off any talk of retirement, adding that he had plenty of “gasoline left in the tank.” He proved that again on Thursday, launching a two-run, opposite-field homer to help the Dodgers sweep the D-backs, 3-2, at Dodger Stadium.
The homer was Pujols’ first as a member of the Dodgers and the 668th homer in his illustrious career. With the homer, Pujols now has 3,256 hits, giving him sole possession of 13th on the all-time hits list, passing former Dodger Eddie Murray. He also became the 39th player in history to hit a homer with both the Angels and Dodgers.
“I think coming through here for 20 years plus, I see the energy this organization has. It always seems like these guys were ready to play every day,” Pujols said. “I’m glad to be on this side now and enjoying the energy and just kind of jumping on the wagon with some of these guys. I’m just excited to contribute and hopefully, to continue to help this ballclub to win.”
Pujols is happy to be a Dodger, and the organization is also thrilled to have him. The first baseman has made four appearances (three starts) for the Dodgers this week and has made an impact in all of them. He recorded his first RBI in his team debut on Monday and drove in another run on Tuesday on a hit-by-pitch. On Wednesday, Pujols singled as a pinch-hitter to load the bases. Two batters later, the Dodgers took the lead.
But no swing was more impressive than the one on Thursday. Pujols took a 0-1 cutter from D-backs starter Merrill Kelly that was away and drove it to right-center for a homer. The ball carried 375 feet and had an exit velocity of 99.2 mph. Just as impressive is the fact that the homer came against a right-handed pitcher. Pujols came into Thursday’s game hitting just .161 in 62 at-bats against righties this season. You would’ve never guessed by his swing.
“I’ve been a fan of Albert for quite some time, like many of us have,” Roberts said. “But to have him and to know that his production helps our team win is certainly a lot better. It was a big hit. Like we said from the very beginning, he still has a lot of life to the bat.”
While Pujols’ bat is making some noise, his presence in the clubhouse has given the Dodgers some extra life. Dodgers starter and fellow future Hall of Famer Clayton Kershaw said that Pujols’ presence will certainly help the hitters on the team. Gavin Lux said he idolized Pujols when he was a kid. Kenley Jansen said it’s no secret that the team’s recent success coincides with “the legend” Pujols being on the roster.
“Just the attitude and personality that he’s bringing to the clubhouse every day, he seems really excited to be here in his role,” Kershaw said. “There’s something to be said when he comes up with guys on base, you know there’s no panic or no stress in him, we know exactly what he can do. I think it’s a great pickup for us.”
One of the players Pujols has already made an impact on is Will Smith. During the team’s ring ceremony last month, each player was asked who their childhood idol was. The Dodgers made sure to get that player to introduce each member of the team as they received their rings. Smith’s favorite player was Pujols. On Thursday, Smith was driven in by Pujols on the homer and also tacked on a homer of his own.
“That was special. I’ll remember being on base when he hit his first one as a Dodger, getting the high-five when he touched home plate. I’ll always remember that,” Smith said. “It’s pretty cool, pretty surreal.”
The marriage between Pujols and the Dodgers wasn’t always an obvious fit, but after the team wrapped up a much-needed 8-1 homestand, maybe it’s exactly what both sides needed.
“I think Albert would argue that he’s more energized by being a Dodger and being around his teammates than he’s infusing into our guys,” Roberts said before Thursday’s game. “For me personally, I think we’re getting a lot of the benefits. … This is a resurgence, and I know he wouldn’t rather be any other place in the world right now.”