ST LOUIS — Continuing to hit home runs in a big way — both in terms of historical significance and the possibility of the Cardinals’ top spot in the playoffs — Albert Pujols hit his 698th career home run against the Reds on Friday.
With the Cardinals trailing by two runs in the sixth inning, Pujols hit a hanging slider off Raynel Espinal’s Statcast-projected 427 feet to tie the game at 4. A blast off his bat at 106.3 mph drove the slugger into two home runs. 700 runs. Only three players in AL/NL history have hit 700 home runs — Barry Bonds, Hank Aaron and Babe Ruth — and Pujols is making a charge to join them before he retires at the end of this season. The Cardinals have 17 games left after a 6-5 victory at Busch Stadium for Pujols to attempt two more home runs.
“At the end of the day, it’s just whatever you can do to help this ballclub,” Pujols said. “Obviously, it’s great when they come in a big situation like that. We’re trying to win the division and that’s what we need.”
Five of Pujols’ past six home runs have either tied games or given the Cardinals the lead.
“I love when he comes home,” Cardinals manager Oliver Marmol joked. “That was a big swing. He keeps doing it in meaningful situations and that’s what matters. It would be one thing if he was just chasing , but he’s taking an incredible approach and delivering when we need it most. Is he chasing 700? Yes, but he’s chasing more championships than that.”
Pujols’ mammoth shot off Espinal extended his AL/NL record to 453 pitchers he’s gone deep against. He finished second in the season behind Barry Bonds, but he passed him by a few weeks and continued to extend the record.
Also, this season Pujols is concerned with home run power: The Cardinals are 15-1 in games when Pujols hits a home run. He has hit two home runs three times this season and the Redbirds are 3-0 in those games.
“It’s unbelievable, man. Usually with the fans, they get up when the ball hits, but here they’re already up,” marveled star third baseman Nolan Arenado, who had a double, a single, two RBIs and the night’s defensive play off Cincinnati’s Kyle Farmer. . plate out of his knee. “It’s crazy and different. When fans found out they were gone, they went crazy. It’s really great to be a part of it. Seriously, it’s one of the coolest things I’ve ever seen.”
Added star first baseman Paul Goldschmidt, who had two hits and an RBI: “I’m just enjoying it and thankful to be with him at this point. It’s something I’ll never be a part of and it’s something we’ll probably never see again. I’m just trying to take it in and remember it for as long as possible.”
Pujols hit the first pitch he saw from Espinal for a home run on Friday. It was the 89th first-pitch home run of Pujols’ career. Only 1-1 (99 HRs) and 1-0 (92) have he hit more home runs. Pujols noted that former Cardinals manager Tony La Russa used to try to get him to swing at more first-pitch strikes, but he said after he saw a few pitches he was more comfortable hitting later in the count.
“Tony was one of those guys that was always mad at me for taking first pitches, but I still take a lot of first pitches,” said Pujols, who will be in the starting lineup for Game 1 of Saturday’s doubleheader against the Reds. Lefty Mike Minor. “I feel like I’m a good hitter with two strikes. Indeed, I do not change [my mindset]. If it’s not the pitch I’m looking for, I take it. On that at bat, I wasn’t really looking to swing at the first pitch, but I got a good pitch to hit and I reacted to it.
Before Friday’s game, Pujols played catch with former Dominican Republic president Lionel Fernandez. Fernandez, who was Pujols’ guest at the game, threw out the ceremonial first pitch. He told Pujols that if he hit two home runs on Friday, he would have to cancel a business trip to New York the next day.
Pujols thought he might have hit his second home run when he drove the ball over the wall in the seventh inning, but he was just two feet shy of hitting 699 in his career. He said he feels energized by baseball fans at Busch Stadium, but also by an estimated 11 million people in his native Dominican Republic.
“I can feel that energy and when I go out there and perform, I’m going out there to represent God, this organization and my country,” said Pujols, who has hit 62 homers in 59 of the Astros’ shutouts. Cubs, 54 against the Pirates and 49 against the Reds. “I should make my country proud every day that I step on that field.”