The air inside Dodger Stadium was ready to be split and a storybook coda to one of the most remarkable stories in baseball in 2022 – or, indeed, many other years – sat waiting to be written. An impossibility two months ago became an inevitability, and Albert Pujols came to the plate in the third and fourth innings to drive a home run in each to the left field bleachers.
The home runs were the 699th and 700th of Pujols’s career, bringing him into a class with Babe Ruth, Henry Aaron, and Barry Bonds as the only four men in the history of Major League Baseball to reach that plateau.
The 700th home run, a returned hanging slider from Dodgers righty Phil Bickford, was the 21st of the season for Pujols in his swan song return to St. Louis. Indeed, when he signed in spring training, there were cynics who questioned whether he would muster 21 hits in total for the season, let alone home runs.
When he reached the All-Star Break hitting just .215 with six homers, it appeared as though the goodbye tour would indeed simply be stops of polite acknowledgement, waving to fans as he was reminded of the player he used to be. Then, after being named to the game – held at Dodger Stadium – he returned as something else.
He wasn’t the player he was supposed to be. He’d transformed back into the player he always has been.
With 15 second-half home runs, Pujols has gone on a tear. And though his immortality has been long established, the allure of 700 has been impossible to deny. Even as he politely answered all questions with a desire for team victories and even as each mounting homer has drawn in more and more drama, the reality of his pending momentous achievement hadn’t seemed to truly sink in. Until Friday.
Hits historic homers against Dodgers, his former team
It’s fair for Cardinals fans to be wistful that history happened late and far from their homes, but truly, it’s fitting for Pujols’s story for 700 to come in Hollywood. After his release from the Angels early last spring put a disappointing bow on what had become a cautionary tale about both contracts and the way sluggers can age, the Dodgers welcomed him in.
With a new lease on writing the end of his story the way he wanted and a mandate to demolish lefty pitching, the struggling Albert Pujols, wracked by pain in his lower half, instead became “Tío Albert,” and he fortified not just a lineup but a clubhouse. He spent just 85 of his more than 3,000 career games as a Dodger, but they carried such significance that his daughter, Sophia, was clad in blue and a number 55 jersey on Friday as she watched her father spin magic from yarn and leather.
Indeed, on the occasion of his signing this year in spring training, MLB Network host and St. Louis native Greg Amsinger turned to the others on a panel and expressed zero doubt that Pujols would reach 700. “Friday night in Los Angeles in September,” with all confidence, was the prediction, met with suspicion and derision.
Suddenly, now, it’s met with magic.
Andrew Heaney and Bickford were the 454th and 455th different pitchers off of whom Pujols has homered, breaking his own record which he set earlier this season. The homer off Bickford was his 500th against a right-handed pitcher, leaving him with precisely 200 against lefties. His 65th career game of multiple home runs is now two behind Mark McGwire for fourth-most all-time in that category. There are lists upon lists upon lists; he only ever seems to climb them.
Emotions pour out for Pujols
For all of the statistical minutia and all of the ways to break down the numerical improbabilities of what Pujols has achieved, the scene Friday as he rounded the bases tells the story better than any other analysis could. He ran with a wide grin that has occasionally crept in after a swing but never before as he took his trot. He crossed home plate and made a sharp right turn to where fellow Dominican legend Adrián Beltré sat behind home plate, exchanging high fives through the screen.
He returned to his teammates, wrapping first Brendan Donovan and then the others in warm hugs, with special time spent for Yadier Molina and Adam Wainwright. He stepped from the dugout with his helmet over his chest, wrapping his arms around his body to acknowledge the warm embrace of the crowd, and he tipped his helmet to the fans and the game.
And then, as was reported by those in Los Angeles, he wept. Albert Pujols, one of the most towering figures in the history of baseball and the St. Louis Cardinals, took several steps down the Dodger Stadium dugout tunnel, squatted, and cried wracking sobs, feeling the release and relief of a plateau of which so many guaranteed he would never reach.
Maybe now he knows how it feels for those who have watched and adored him for so long. So many things, after all, should have been impossible. But there was Albert – never in doubt.