'It's an honor to be his teammate': Ageless Pujols on incredible tear

Slugger also ties Barry Bonds for most pitchers homered off all-time

August 23rd, 2022

CHICAGO -- As dialed in as he has been at almost any point throughout his historically dominant career, Cardinals slugger Albert Pujols used a moment from Monday’s second inning, made a slight tweak to it and ultimately turned it into the 693rd regular-season home run of his career.

Yep, Albert Pujols is that off-the-charts great once again for the Cardinals.

After ripping a 106.1 mph blast off the left-field wall for a single in the second inning, Pujols retreated to the dugout to find his trusty tablet to review the hit. Playfully, Pujols had an idea for the rest of his at-bats -- hit the ball more toward the gap where the ivy-covered wall at Wrigley Field juts inward. He was able to do that in the seventh inning -- on a pitch that was neck-high, nonetheless -- making Pujols’ 30th career home run at storied Wrigley Field even more impressive.

“I told [catcher] Yadi [Molina], ‘I should have hit [the second-inning line drive] a little more to the right, and maybe it would have gotten out,” Pujols said after providing the only run of the night in a 1-0 win over the Cubs that extended the Cardinals’ winning streak to eight games. “That’s the adjustment I made -- I hit it a little more to the right -- and it went out of the ballpark.”

As if hitting the 693rd regular-season home run of his career wasn’t significant enough, Pujols tied Barry Bonds for first all-time by homering off his 449th pitcher. Pujols turned Chicago’s Drew Smyly into a footnote in history by driving a ball into the first row of the left-field bleachers. Smyly was in awe that Pujols could connect on a pitch that was neck-high and drive it out of the park even though it came off the end of the bat.

“But, he's The Machine for a reason," Smyly said of Pujols’ famed nickname. "He's back."

As impressive as it is to sit atop the record books in terms of the number of pitchers he has homered off, Pujols said the person on the mound has rarely commanded the bulk of his attention. Instead, Pujols focuses primarily on his swing, his preparation and his mindset. The pitchers, all 449 of them, just so happen to be in the path of arguably the greatest right-handed hitter in the history of the game.

“I don’t think about [the different pitchers],” Pujols admitted. “Hopefully, if I’m in the lineup [for Tuesday’s doubleheader], maybe I can hit another home run off someone who I haven’t faced. I do my homework, put in the work, trust the process and execute no matter who I’m facing.”

The one run Pujols provided was enough support for 6-foot-6 left-handed pitcher Jordan Montgomery, who limited the Cubs to one hit while retiring the final 19 batters. Montgomery, acquired at the Trade Deadline from the Yankees, allowed a double to Christopher Morel in the bottom of the third but shut down the Cubs the rest of the way.

Montgomery (7-3 overall and 4-0 as a Cardinal) retired 27 of the 28 hitters he faced. He struck out seven and didn’t walk a batter, extending his streak of innings without a free pass to 15.

Like everyone at Wrigley Field on Monday, Montgomery said he was more impressed with what Pujols continues to do than his own outing. Incredibly, the 42-year-old Pujols has hit six home runs in seven games. He is three home runs shy of tying Alex Rodriguez (696 homers) for fourth in AL/NL history, and he is seven away from reaching the 700 plateau.

“To be doing it as long as he has and being as good as long as he has and breaking all the records, it’s honestly an honor to be his teammate,” said Montgomery of Pujols, who threw Nick Madrigal’s grounder to Montgomery at first to end the game. “To be seeing this from the best seat in the house -- and he saved my butt on that last out -- is amazing.”

When pairing the homer with the liner off the wall, Pujols recorded the 940th multi-hit game of his career -- good for 10th in AL/NL history. None of it surprises Pujols, he stressed.

“No matter if I’m playing or not, I’m going to come over here and do my work, and that’s what I’ve done for 22 years to keep my swing sharp,” he said. “I don’t [surprise myself]. When you have been anointed the talent by the Lord -- special talent that he has blessed me with -- add that to the hard work and dedication, I don’t get surprised at all.”