ST. LOUIS -- During his retirement ceremony prior to his final regular-season game at Busch Stadium on Sunday, Cardinals superstar slugger Albert Pujols told the sellout crowd about how he wondered what he was doing returning for this final season when he struggled throughout April, May and June.
Then, the deeply religious Pujols said he was hit with a realization.
“I knew there was no way the good Lord brought me back to St. Louis to embarrass myself,” Pujols said candidly.
The 42-year-old Pujols continued his torrid second-half tear when he hit home run No. 702 of his illustrious career in the Cards' 7-5 loss. Pujols jumped on a 92.9 mph fastball from Pirates right-hander Roansy Contreras and drilled it a Statcast-projected 409 feet into the batter’s eye in center field. As has been the case for the past month, Busch Stadium’s 29th sellout crowd of the season demanded a curtain call, and Pujols obliged it by coming out of the dugout and doffing his helmet to the crowd.
Pujols' homer in his final regular-season at-bat at Busch Stadium was something of a fitting bookend for him. Way back on April 9, 2001, he went deep in his _first _at-bat in St. Louis during the Cardinals' home opener. (Watch below)
Pujols had just two homers in April and two in May, and he went homerless in June. He’s hit 19 since then with 17 of them coming after the MLB All-Star Game, an event where Pujols was an honorary participant, and he was showered with praise by the players and managers in the game. He also upset top-seeded slugger, Kyle Schwarber, in the first round of the Home Run Derby.
Contreras is the Major League record 457th pitcher that Pujols has homered off. He came into the 2022 season trailing Barry Bonds in that statistic, but he’s easily passed the former Pirates/Giants slugger to move into first.
Pujols, who was put at first base and in the No. 3 spot in the order by nostalgia-loving manager Oliver Marmol, was honored along with retiring catcher Yadier Molina by the Cardinals prior to the game. Pujols is completing his 22nd season, while the 40-year-old Molina is in his 19th season -- all with the Cardinals.
Said Marmol of batting Pujols third and penciling him in as the starting first baseman on Sunday: “It feels really right.”
In his career, Pujols has hit 484 home runs while playing first base -- far more than the 119 he’s hit as a DH. Also, a whopping 505 of Pujols’ home runs have come while he was hitting third -- 374 more than any other spot in the lineup.
Pujols, Molina and starting pitcher Adam Wainwright were removed from the game together with two outs in the fifth inning. Wainwright, who has struggled for the last month, had another rocky outing when he surrendered six runs on six hits and two walks over 4 2/3 innings. Wainwright and Molina made their Major League record 328th and final start together in a regular-season game. The three players were given a thunderous ovation as they walked off the field together.
Given a standing ovation before he even reached the batter’s box, Pujols doubled in two runs in his first at-bat in the first inning. Then, in the third inning, Pujols delighted the thousands of standing fans with their cell phones thrust into the air to record the moment when he homered to tie the game at 4. Incredibly, seven of Pujols’ last nine home runs have either tied the game or vaulted the Cardinals into the lead.
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 for most of last season. Those blasts gave him 500 against right-handers -- now 502 -- and 200 off left-handers.
Pujols hit home run No. 701 on Friday night at Busch to tie the game after the Cardinals had fallen into a 1-0 hole. The home runs Friday and Sunday gave Pujols 216 in his career in St. Louis. He’s hit 333 home runs in his home ballpark and 369 on the road.
Pujols’ homer Sunday, which left the bat at 105.3 mph and had 4.9 seconds of hangtime, per Statcast, was the 56th home run of Pujols' career against the Pirates and his sixth this season versus rival Pittsburgh. That’s his third-most against any foe, trailing only the Astros (62) and Cubs (59).