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Matheny: Pujols 'very special' on and off field

Cardinals react to slugger's 3,000th hit with Angels; Wainwright set to make rehab start
MLB.com @JoeTrezz

ST. LOUIS -- The first 2,073 hits of Albert Pujols' Hall of Fame-worthy career came as a member of the Cardinals, and few had a better view of so many of them than manager Mike Matheny.

The Cardinals' skipper bought Pujols his first suit after he made the club out of Spring Training as a 21-year-old in 2001. Matheny was on deck later that week in Colorado when Pujols lined the first hit of his career, a single to center off Mike Hampton. He watched Pujols collect 787 more as a teammate, then 362 as an opposing hitter, before retiring in 2006. They remained close in the years following, linking up to hit at Matheny's home and teaming on charity missions in the offseason.

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ST. LOUIS -- The first 2,073 hits of Albert Pujols' Hall of Fame-worthy career came as a member of the Cardinals, and few had a better view of so many of them than manager Mike Matheny.

The Cardinals' skipper bought Pujols his first suit after he made the club out of Spring Training as a 21-year-old in 2001. Matheny was on deck later that week in Colorado when Pujols lined the first hit of his career, a single to center off Mike Hampton. He watched Pujols collect 787 more as a teammate, then 362 as an opposing hitter, before retiring in 2006. They remained close in the years following, linking up to hit at Matheny's home and teaming on charity missions in the offseason.

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So after Pujols collected his 3,000th hit Friday night as a member of the Angels, joining one of baseball's most exclusive groups with a bloop single off Mike Leake, Matheny naturally reached out. The video he sent Pujols was meant to congratulate the slugger on solidifying a legacy long expected to land him Cooperstown.

Video: Must C Classic: Pujols singles, records hit No. 3,000

Pujols became the 32nd player to reach 3,000, and just the fourth to collect 3,000 hits and 600 home runs.

"Man, that's amazing," Matheny said Saturday. "I see the person, not just the player. The player stuff is pretty obvious. It didn't take us long to realize we were watching something very special. But for me, the real difference-maker was what we were able to see in the offseason. Just a different persona. I've never seen somebody so driven in my life. But when he had the opportunity to go make a difference in the community, I think he took advantage of the platform better than anybody ever has.

"He was just an animal about hitting. Where he set himself apart was mentally. It was nine months of him as locked in to the game as possible. That's why I don't think most people got to see the person Albert really is, because he really committed those nine months to never giving an at-bat away, never taking a pitch off."

Reaction to Pujols' milestone hit poured in from across the organization.

Tweet from @Cardinals: Congratulations @PujolsFive! We enjoyed watching you collect your first 2,073 hits in a Cardinals uniform. pic.twitter.com/RtbufaZ67B

The Cardinals congratulated Pujols in a tweet that read: "Congratulations @PujolsFive! We enjoyed watching you collect your first 2,073 hits in a Cardinals uniform." Adam Wainwright, Pujols' teammate from 2005-10, tweeted: "Just wanted to take a second and congratulate my good friend @PujolsFive on 3,000 hits!!! I'm so happy for you hermano! What a great accomplishment! Best player I've ever seen in person, and one of the greatest men too."

Cardinals broadcaster and former relief pitcher Brad Thompson, Pujols' teammate from 2005-09, said: "You always knew there was a savior of sorts. He was going to be there. He was going to do something special and he was able to change the momentum of a game, a series, or heck, an entire month.

"He got to the point where he was so good that he'd hit a single and you'd be disappointed. It was unbelievable what you got to see, day-in and day-out with him. With everybody, we played against and everybody I played with, there was nobody even close to the stuff he was doing."

Tweet from @UncleCharlie50: Just wanted to take a second and congratulate my good friend @PujolsFive on 3,000 hits!!! I���m so happy for you hermano! What a great accomplishment! Best player I���ve ever seen in person, and one of the greatest men too.

Cardinals bullpen coach Bryan Eversgerd said: "It's pretty impressive. I was the winning pitcher when he came up to Triple-A for three games the year before his Major League debut. He hit the game-winning home run to win us the PCL championship. The rest is history. I never saw him again."

Wainwright's rehab set

After completing a second bullpen session without issue, Wainwright will depart Monday for a rehab start at Double-A Springfield. Wainwright has been on the disabled list since April 20 with right elbow inflammation similar to the injury that shortened his 2017 season. But he believes the inflammation is manageable.

Wong reports family is fine

For Cardinals second baseman Kolten Wong, who grew up 15-20 minutes from the area in Hawaii rocked this weekend by volcanic eruptions and earthquakes, the past few days have been filled with shock and worry. Wong described the feeling as "helpless," but he reported that all his friends and family safe.

Hundreds of Hawaiians were driven from their homes this weekend after the Kilauea volcano erupted, spewing sulfuric acid and molten rocks into neighborhoods. The eruption was followed by dozens of earthquakes, including a magnitude-6.9 quake that was the most powerful registered on the island since 1975. Wong said he received live-feed videos from friends working to sort through the affected areas.

"It's scary stuff," Wong said. "The lava was always flowing growing up. The lava is a part of life and is something we spiritually feel is part of our culture and who we are. But we don't really get earthquakes."

Joe Trezza is a reporter for MLB.com. Follow him on Twitter at @joetrezz.

St. Louis Cardinals, Albert Pujols, Adam Wainwright