The 700 Club: Another page in the record books authored by Albert Pujols

With a swing we have seen 700 times across 22 MLB seasons, Albert Pujols authors another page in the record books.

On Friday night in the City of Angels, Albert Pujols provided a moment not even Hollywood could script. On the third pitch of the at bat, Pujols launched the slider well beyond the left field wall for his second home run of the night and more importantly, his 700th of his career.

He seemed to know on contact, the significance of the swing, the magnitude of the moment. And as he circled the bases around the stadium that he claimed helped to rejuvenate his career, there was no hiding the joy, the elation and the appreciation for it all.

“To be able to do it here, at Dodger Stadium, where I think my joy, pretty much, for this game came back … it’s pretty special,” Pujols said.

Accomplishing this monumental feat in Los Angeles, where his career was revived, but in the threads where his journey began feels poetic.

“I just want to take this opportunity to thank all the Dodgers fans,” Pujols said. “You guys brought me the joy I had as a little boy when I started playing baseball at five years old. (It) came back to me last year. The five-and-a-half months I spent with a great organization, a great team, it was a blessing.”

Pujols is a beloved figure in baseball, regardless of the stadium he steps in. It is a combination of his character both on and off the field which allows him to be such a unanimously loved person. So much so that when he sent number 700 into the Los Angeles sky, Dodgers manager Dave Roberts nearly jumped off the bench in joy, despite the feat coming at the expense of his team.

“I’m still in shock,” Pujols said after the game, in which the Cardinals beat the Dodgers 11-0. “I can close my eyes and just see that pitch and hitting it out of the ballpark. Running around the bases, thinking of what’s going through my head. Right now, I’m just enjoying the moment with my family and my teammates. My country back in the Dominican Republic is celebrating, people back in St. Louis, the fans here. It’s pretty nice to hear in my last year the support I have here.”

Throughout his two decades in the major leagues, Pujols has always balanced the meaning of the moment with a stoic, humble approach. Yet his 700th trip around the bases resulted in perhaps as much emotion as he’s ever displayed. He never took his eyes off the flight of the ball until it sailed over the fence and he beamed as he circled the bases. When he touched home plate, he pointed his fingers to the sky and immediately ran to the first row of seats behind home plate to celebrate with his longtime friend and mentor Adrián Beltré. Then Pujols wrapped his arms around Yadier Molina, embraced Adam Wainwright, saluted the rest of his St. Louis Cardinals teammates, doffed his helmet for the Dodger Stadium crowd — and then he needed to be alone.

He barreled down the dugout steps and into an empty hallway, and in that moment, the man famously hailed as “The Machine” became vulnerable.

Down in the tunnel that leads to the clubhouse crouched one of the greatest right-handed hitters to ever play the game, his hands in his face as he became washed over with emotion.

A highlight montage of Pujols’ career took over the scoreboards at Dodger Stadium. Pujols proceeded into the dugout after a couple of minutes, but a resounding ovation led him back up the dugout steps. There he stood, once again donning the uniform responsible for starting his career, tipping his helmet to the organization responsible for prolonging it.

“If (the Dodgers) didn’t give me that opportunity,” Pujols would later say, “I don’t think I would be sitting here today or you would’ve seen history tonight.”

Pujols, in this age of specialization and supersized bullpens, has homered off more pitchers than anyone: 455. Both homers on Friday came off new victims: His 434-foot shot to left in the third inning came off Dodgers starter Andrew Heaney, and his 389-footer in the fourth inning was off the reliever Phil Bickford. Neither had ever faced Pujols before Friday night’s game.

Pujols is finishing with a flourish nearly as improbable as his rise at the start. Playing on a part-time basis in his farewell season, his .530 slugging percentage through Friday is his highest since 2011, the final year of his first stint in St. Louis.

Pujols averaged more than 40 homers per year with the Cardinals from 2001 through 2011, slugging .617 overall.

His 21 home runs give him 18 20-homer seasons for his career, third most in history behind only Aaron (20) and Bonds (19). Only he and Ted Williams hit at least 20 home runs in both their first and final seasons. Friday marked his fourth multihomer game after turning 42, the most in major league history.

A timeless swing. An exclusive club. A treasured uniform in a beloved stadium.

The record books will read: Barry Bonds, 762. Hank Aaron, 755. Babe Ruth, 714.

And now, in the final season of a sensational 22-year career, one that will undoubtedly end with a plaque in Cooperstown, done with a swing that many have imitated but truly belongs to only one:

Albert Pujols, 700.

“It’s pretty special,” Pujols said. “When it’s really gonna hit me is when I’m done, at the end of the season, when I’m retired, and probably a moment or two after that I can look at the numbers.

“Look, don’t get me wrong, I know what my place is in this game. But since Day 1, when I made my debut, it was never about numbers, it was never about chasing numbers. It was always about winning championships and trying to get better in this game. And I had so many people that taught me the right way early in my career, and that’s how I’ve carried myself for 22 years that I’ve been in the big leagues. That’s why I really don’t focus on the numbers. I will one day, but not right now.”

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