Vintage Pujols HR sends St. Louis into frenzy

June 23rd, 2019

ST. LOUIS -- It was a sight Cardinals fans saw countless times from during his incredible run with St. Louis from 2001-11, but this time, Pujols homered as a visiting player at Busch Stadium, and it still elicited a huge ovation from the crowd.

Playing as a visiting player at Busch for the first time in his career this weekend, Pujols received standing ovations before each of his at-bats, including his third time up, an at-bat against right-handed starter Dakota Hudson in the seventh inning of Saturday’s 4-2 Cardinals win over the Angels. Hudson fell behind in the count, 2-1, and Pujols clobbered a sinker that caught too much of the plate for a solo homer to get the Angels on the board and cut St. Louis' lead to 4-1.

“I’m trying to go around the bases and get to the plate and get to the dugout and hold everything in," Pujols said. "It was hard. That’s pretty special. Too bad we lost the game, but to do something special for the fans, it’s amazing."

As Pujols rounded the bases, he received yet another standing ovation from the fans in what had to be one of the loudest cheers for a home run hit by an opposing player. He then removed his helmet during a curtain call after returning to the visitors' dugout. Pujols went 1-for-4 on Saturday, a day after going 1-for-2 with a walk in his first game back in St. Louis as a member of the Angels.

“Cardinals fans got what they wanted today,” Angels manager Brad Ausmus said. “They got a win and an Albert home run. They're always very respectful to him."

Pujols' 13th homer of the year, the 646th of his career, soared to left field at 106.8 mph off the bat and went a projected 408 feet, per Statcast. Pujols hit 445 homers over his 11 years with the Cardinals, including 110 at Busch Stadium III and 94 at the previous Busch Stadium.

Even Hudson and Cardinals manager Mike Shildt couldn’t help but marvel at the reaction from the fans to Pujols’ homer.

“He deserved every second he got,” said Hudson, who gave up one run over seven innings. “That’s a respect thing you have in the game. Whenever he gave me the nod, it was, ‘Hey, let’s compete.’ I gave him the best I had, and he gave me the best he had. It was a lot of fun to be in that competition.”

Said Schildt: “When something like that happens, it’s a unique situation. What a special moment for him and for the whole stadium and Cardinal nation. He’s an icon. A living legend. Very few of them have a chance to come back and perform. It is unusual, for sure, but thankfully it didn’t factor into the ending result of the competition.”

The memorable home run wasn't enough, as the Angels had trouble offensively for the second straight game. Their only other run came on a solo homer from Justin Upton with two outs in the eighth.

Right-hander Felix Pena gave up four runs (two earned) over four innings and was hurt by one errant throw and one bad pitch. He gave up two unearned runs in the fifth, when he made a crucial error with two runners on base. Pena threw to third on a bunt by Hudson, attempting to throw out lead runner Yadier Molina, but Pena spiked the throw, which got past David Fletcher and brought home two runs.

"The bunt play, I don't think he knew how much time he had," Ausmus said of Pena. "He just didn't realize who the runner was and thought he had to rush a little bit, and that caused the error."

Pena’s other mistake came in the sixth, when he served up a two-run blast to Marcell Ozuna on a 3-2 changeup to give the Cardinals a four-run lead. He fell to 5-2 with a 4.68 ERA and has a 7.84 ERA over his last five outings. There’s a chance he could move to the bullpen soon as a result, especially with JC Ramirez nearing a return from Tommy John surgery.

“I think I threw a lot of good pitches, but I just made a mistake on that home run, and that bunt play cost me,” Pena said through an interpreter. “I tried to be too perfect, and I wasn’t able to make a good throw.”