Pujols' 'storybook' homer in STL fuels win

J. Turner goes deep twice; Smith goes 4-for-4 with dinger as Dodgers keep pace

September 8th, 2021

ST. LOUIS -- It wasn’t quite the reception got from the capacity crowd when he made his return to St. Louis in 2019. But the fans in attendance at Busch Stadium on Tuesday showed the future Hall of Famer plenty of love.

When Pujols stepped inside the batter’s box in the first inning, the crowd rose to their feet, welcoming back one of the best players to ever play for the Cardinals’ organization. Catcher Yadier Molina, whom Pujols called his “little brother,” stood in front of home plate in order to give fans an opportunity to give Pujols a well-deserved ovation.

Pujols admitted that he got a little emotional during that moment. But once that was over, he was ready to do exactly what fans in St. Louis became accustomed to over his dominant 11-year tenure with the organization: Hit a long home run.

In the Dodgers’ 7-2 win over the Cardinals, it was Pujols that got the scoring started with a screeching line-drive homer over the left-field wall off left-hander J.A. Happ. It had an exit velocity of 102.6 mph and traveled a projected 386 feet. It was Pujols’ 679th career homer and his first in St. Louis as a member of the Dodgers.

“It’s always pretty special anytime you can come over here in St. Louis with the history that I have here with the fans,” Pujols said. “It was really a great moment, once again, and to be able to deliver like that in the first at-bat was huge.”

Over his career, Pujols has 112 home runs and 358 RBIs in 460 games at the current Busch Stadium. Pujols also sent the crowd into a frenzy back in 2019, when he homered in his first return to St. Louis as a visitor with the Angels.

He might’ve changed uniforms, but the memories will always be there for Pujols. It’s where he won his championships and where he became one of the greatest hitters in the history of the game. When it’s all said and done, Pujols will have his Cardinals jersey retired and a statue outside of the ballpark.

“It was just a nice little moment there in the first inning and then my last three at-bats also,” Pujols said. “I really appreciated my time here; it was great memories and that’s something that I’ll always share with these fans and this city.”

But while Pujols’ day of honor in St. Louis will certainly come, his sole focus is on trying to help the Dodgers repeat as champions.

As the Dodgers got healthier, Pujols’ playing time diminished. With AJ Pollock going on the injured list with a right hamstring issue, however, the Dodgers are once again going to lean on Pujols more against left-handed pitching. It’s a situation in which Pujols has given the Dodgers a huge boost, smacking 13 of his 17 homers (including with the Angels) this season off of southpaws.

Dodgers manager Dave Roberts admitted that the Pujols signing has exceeded everybody’s expectations. They knew the type of clubhouse presence they were getting, but Pujols has proved that he has plenty of gas left in the tank. That was on display again.

“Anytime he hits a homer, you’re watching history happen,” said Dodgers third baseman Justin Turner. “For him to do it here in St. Louis, it’s extra special. St. Louis has a really special place in his heart and that was pretty cool for everyone in the stadium, not just Albert.”

While Pujols’ homer stole the show, the rest of the Dodgers’ offense showed signs of life. In order for the Dodgers to win another championship, they’re going to need more consistency out of their star-studded lineup.

On Tuesday, they were much better. Turner hit two homers, his first since Aug. 15 and Will Smith went 4-for-4, including his 23rd homer of the season. Cody Bellinger and Steven Souza Jr. also chipped in with RBIs. The bullpen also did its job as the Dodgers used nine relievers in yet another successful bullpen game.

But the spotlight was on Pujols and his return to St. Louis. He didn’t disappoint.

“Storybook,” Roberts said. “I’m a big believer that the game honors you, and the way Albert has played the game for so long and the right way, that’s the way it was supposed to work out.”