In the history of Major League Baseball, now only four players have hit more homers than Angels slugger Albert Pujols. Pujols crushed career homer No. 660 on Sunday, tying him for fifth place on baseball’s all-time home run list with Hall of Famer and Giants legend Willie Mays.
Pujols’ milestone came in a key moment -- a two-run blast off reliever Carlos Estévez in the eighth inning to give the Angels a one-run lead in an eventual 5-3 win at Coors Field. It came on a 1-1 fastball and traveled a projected 402 feet, per Statcast. Only Barry Bonds (762), Hank Aaron (755), Babe Ruth (714) and Alex Rodriguez (696) went deep more times than Pujols has.
"For it to be the game winner on top of all that, it was kind of like a perfect moment for him," Angels manager Joe Maddon said. "And for us. We're still not out of this thing, mathematically, and to get a big knock like that, it could help get our spirits [up] for the next couple days."
It’s another stunning accomplishment for Pujols, who has hit so many incredible milestones in his 20-year career, including reaching 3,000 hits in 2018 and recently passing Rodriguez for second on the all-time RBI list. Pujols also passed Craig Biggio for fifth on the all-time doubles list with 669 on Saturday and is also the only player to ever join the 650-homer, 650-double club.
"I've seen him set a lot of records and do a lot of really cool things, so you would think at some point you kind of become numb to it, but you're not," said lefty Andrew Heaney, who picked up the win thanks to Pujols’ homer. "When a guy's tying Willie Mays for 660 homers, you know that's something that ... it’s indescribable."
It took a while for Pujols to reach the homer mark. He hit No. 659 on Aug. 4 after smacking three homers through his first eight games, but then hit a dry spell of not going deep for 22 games until Sunday. Pujols went 93 plate appearances without a homer, which was his longest streak since 2014.
“I don’t think about it,” Pujols said. “If I did, I would be hitting a bunch of ground balls, striking out and not putting up good swings. I knew sooner or later, whether it was this year or next year, it was gonna happen. It was just a matter of time.”
Pujols, a three-time MVP and 10-time All-Star, hit 445 homers in 11 seasons with the Cardinals and 215 in nine years with the Angels. He remains under contract through next year after signing a 10-year deal before the '12 season. He twice led the National League in homers with 47 in '09 and 42 in '10. His most with the Angels was when he smacked 40 in 2015, his last year as an All-Star. Pujols has hit 312 homers at home, 348 on the road and they've come at 38 different parks. He's also homered off 425 different pitchers.
“You got to wrap your mind around things like that,” Maddon said. “And normally, it takes me a while, usually it takes me an offseason, to reflect. But for him personally and his family, that's pretty special, because Willie Mays is one of the best of all time and Albert is going to be spoken about in the same terms.”
Mays played 22 years, hitting 646 homers with the Giants and 14 with the Mets. Some consider the 24-time All-Star the best all-around player in the game’s history and Pujols has said in the past how much it means to him to be mentioned with Mays. Mays texted Pujols earlier this season when the Angels played in San Francisco and told him it was “his time” to move up the list.
“Legend,” Pujols said. "I mean, it’s unbelievable. It’s something you dream about. I got the chance to meet him several times when we went to San Francisco. He’s just a legend, it’s amazing to be able to have my name in the same sentence as Willie Mays. It's just unbelievable, really humbling. Something I’m gonna tell my kids, my grandkids, and it’s a legacy that will live forever."
Pujols tying Mays also didn’t go unnoticed by the Rockies, as manager Bud Black and shortstop Trevor Story were both in awe. Coincidentally, Pujols made his Major League debut at Coors Field on April 2, 2001. Black also served as a special assistant for the Angels in 2016.
"I was in uniform during Spring Training, so I got to engage and interact with Albert,” Black said. “He's been a consummate professional his entire career. He'll go down as one of the greatest right-handed hitters of all time. There's no doubt about that.”
Said Story: "It's a huge number. He's just an all-time legend in my mind. And in everybody else's book too. And it's been cool for me to play against him. I know he's a really special baseball player. I know he's a special person too. And I think that says a lot about him and in the kind of guy that he is. He means everything to the game. Such a role model for kids, and me, to be honest."
Pujols stands alone at second on the all-time RBI list with 2,097, trailing Aaron, who had 2,297 in 23 seasons.
The RBI record book can be a bit confusing for a couple of reasons, however. For starters, RBIs did not become an official stat until 1920, which means that Elias does not consider Ruth and Cap Anson to be members of the 2,000-RBI club, even though they are listed as having reached that milestone in some places that retroactively include all RBIs accrued prior to 1920. On those lists, Ruth is listed ahead of Pujols.
Additionally, due to the uncertain nature of record keeping in the early part of the 20th century, some discrepancies exist between the stats provided today by different historical data providers. For example, some sources list Ruth as having 2,214 RBIs, while others have him at 2,213.
Next up on the home run list is Rodriguez, but Pujols, 40, acknowledged it’s still a bit away. Pujols, who is under contract through next year, had his chase for history hurt by this year’s shortened 60-game season.
"It is far away," Pujols said. "I don't really think about that. If it happens, if it's meant to be for me to tie A-Rod or to get 700, it's going to happen. But I don't want to force it. I don't go out there to try to chase numbers or records."