PITTSBURGH -- The Cardinals started Albert Pujols against a right-handed starter Saturday night at PNC Park, and he repaid the trust with another historic -- and crushed -- home run.
In the sixth inning of the Cardinals’ 7-5 win over the Pirates, Pujols hit the 696th home run of his career to move into a tie for fourth place with Alex Rodriguez on the all-time list.
Now, only Barry Bonds (762), Hank Aaron (755) and Babe Ruth (714) have more home runs than Pujols over the course of his brilliant 22-year MLB career. Pujols, 42, announced in Spring Training that this will be the final season of his career, and he has remained steadfast in that, regardless of how many home runs he winds up hitting.
All-time HR leaderboard
1. Barry Bonds, 762
2. Henry Aaron, 755
3. Babe Ruth, 714
4. Albert Pujols, 696
4. Alex Rodriguez, 696
No. 696 was an absolute no-doubter. Facing JT Brubaker for a third time in the game, Pujols swung on a high first-pitch slider and sent it to the rotunda beyond the left-field foul pole. It was his third-hardest-hit homer in the Statcast Era (since 2015) with an exit velocity of 111.2 mph, and he sent it a projected 418 feet.
Needless to say, Pujols had a long time to watch it fly before rounding the bases and greeting teammate Yadier Molina with a big hug just beyond home plate, as the two enter their final month of the regular season as MLB players and Cardinals.
“He’s been like my little brother for the last 20 years,” Pujols said. “To be able to share this moment with him and being back here in my last year, his last year, it’s pretty special.”
The homer was one of two game-tying hits Pujols notched before Nolan Arenado’s game-winning, bases-clearing double.
“That was fun to watch. Every time he steps up, you never know what you’re going to see with Albert,” Cardinals starter Jack Flaherty said. “It was a big home run, too. Every one that he hits is important.”
Pujols, who has 17 home runs this season for the Cardinals, also extended his MLB record for hitting a home run off 452 different pitchers. Former Cub Ryan Dempster surrendered the most Pujols home runs of any pitcher by yielding eight.
Prior to this season, Bonds held the MLB record for homering off 449 pitchers, but Pujols moved past him with a stirring finish to the season in terms of his power production. Pujols had just four home runs through the first three months of the season, but he found his stroke in July (three home runs), and he again resembled the feared slugger he was early in his career with eight homers in August.
Pujols pulled within one home run of matching Rodriguez’s mark of 696 when he had a pinch-hit, two-run home run to break a scoreless tie in the eighth inning as the Cardinals topped the Cubs on Sept. 4. It was the seventh pinch-hit home run of his career and the second one of this season. On Aug. 18, Pujols had a pinch-hit grand slam in a 13-0 defeat of the Rockies -- the first such home run of his career.
That No. 695 also came in what proved to be the final at-bat he’d ever take against the NL Central rival Cubs, off whom he’s hit 59 career homers. In addition to homering against all 30 teams, Pujols has hit 62 home runs against the Astros, 59 against the Cubs, 53 against the Pirates, 48 versus the Reds and 45 against the Brewers.
Pujols’ 33 home runs at PNC Park are tied for the most he’s hit at any ballpark he didn’t call home as a player. He also swatted 33 at Minute Maid Park, but he played 53 more games in Houston (152) than he did in Pittsburgh (99). Somewhat unbelievably, Pujols also passed Pirates everyday center fielder Bryan Reynolds for sole possession of 14th-most homers in PNC Park history.
The home run pace Pujols has been on in the second half gives fans hope of seeing a fourth member of the 700-homer club. He’s hit 11 in 36 games since the All-Star break, and there are still 22 games left on the Cardinals’ regular-season calendar. Not to mention, Pujols will finish his final season facing the Pirates team he’s tormented six times, including his last three games at PNC Park.
But despite the baseball world looking forward to potentially seeing him inch toward the 700-homer mark, he’s keeping the approach he’s kept for his entire career.
“It’s very special,” Pujols said of his elite company. “I’m aware of where I am in the history of the game, but at the end of the day, 21 years ago when I made the ballclub, it wasn’t something that I was chasing. Twenty two years later, I don’t think I’m going to change my approach.
“I think I’m just going to let things happen and enjoy it, and if it happens, it happens.”