Rejuvenated Albert Pujols brings his chase for 700 home runs to Dodger Stadium

When the bat of Albert Pujols stuck fireplace in early August, and it gave the impression the St. Louis Cardinals slugger would make an implausible Eleventh-hour run to 700 homers, Mark McGwire started monitoring his long-ago teammate throughout the MLB app and tuning into as many Pujols plate appearances as he may.

“His at-bats, he looks like he’s 25 again,” McGwire mentioned of the 42-year-old Pujols, who was once a Cardinals rookie when McGwire hit the final of his 583 occupation homers in a St. Louis uniform in 2001. “This guy is a born hitter.”

But it wasn’t till McGwire returned to Busch Stadium for Matt Holliday’s Cardinals Hall-of-Fame induction rite on Aug. 27 that he in reality grasped — actually, no longer figuratively — how Pujols, in his twenty second and ultimate giant league season, has recaptured the thunder in his swing.

“When I saw Albert, I gave him a hug, and it’s like, you know when you hug someone, and you just go, ‘Oh man, I don’t want to mess with that guy?’ ” McGwire mentioned in a telephone interview. “When you hug Albert, you go, ‘I’m not gonna mess with him because he’s strong as s—.’ He hasn’t lost any strength.”

Dodgers enthusiasts gets an up-close have a look at what McGwire and far of baseball has marveled at for the previous two months when Pujols and the National League-leading Cardinals start a three-game sequence in Chavez Ravine on Friday evening.

Pujols hit the 698th homer of his occupation, a two-run, score-tying shot that traveled 427 ft to left box in a win over the Cincinnati Reds in St. Louis final Friday evening.

Pujols didn’t homer on this week’s three-game sequence towards the San Diego Padres in Petco Park, however with two extra lengthy balls, he’s going to sign up for Barry Bonds (762), Hank Aaron (755) and Babe Ruth (714) as the one gamers in primary league historical past to hit 700 home runs.

As a lot Cardinals enthusiasts would like for No. 700 to be hit in St. Louis, the place Pujols received 3 NL Most worthy participant awards and led the Cardinals to World Series titles in 2006 and 2011, Dodger Stadium would offer a becoming backdrop for the milestone shot.

It was once right here that Pujols revitalized a occupation many concept was once over when the Angels launched him in early May 2021 after Pujols produced 0 playoff wins over the process his 10-year, $240-million contract, and the place his flagging 2022 season were given a booster shot.

Pujols was once baseball’s most-feared right-handed hitter within the first 11 years of his Hall-of-Fame occupation in St. Louis, the place he hit .328 with a 1.037 on-base-plus-slugging proportion, 445 homers and 1,329 RBIs and was once nicknamed “the Machine” on account of his metronome-like manufacturing.

Though he hit his five hundredth and 600th homers and picked up his 3,000th hit and a couple of,000th RBI for the Angels, a number of lower-body accidents and age sapped the primary baseman of his prodigious energy, and his manufacturing plummeted. He hit .256 with a .758 OPS and averaged 24 homers and 85 RBIs in 9 complete seasons in Anaheim.

Less than every week after he was once launched, Pujols, then 41 and with 667 occupation homers, signed with the Dodgers. The transfer to a World Series contender — even in a lesser position — gave the impression to “rekindle his love for the game,” McGwire mentioned. “It got the fire in him again.”

Dodgers third baseman Justin Turner hugs Albert Pujols after hitting a home run in the wild-card game on Oct. 6, 2021.

Albert Pujols hugs Justin Turner after Turner’s home run within the Dodgers’ wild-card recreation towards the St. Louis Cardinals on Oct. 6, 2021.

(Robert Gauthier/Los Angeles Times)

Pujols hit .254 with a .759 OPS, 12 homers and 38 RBIs in 85 video games for the Dodgers, together with a .953 OPS towards lefties, and relished his position as a mentor to his new teammates, who affectionately known as him “Tio Albert” and sought his endure hugs within the dugout.

“I saw a different Albert last year when he got here,” mentioned Dodgers third-base trainer Dino Ebel, an Angels trainer from 2006 to 2018. “I know things didn’t turn out the way he wanted with the Angels, but when he got here, he was happy. He was a different guy.

“He knew his role. He accepted his role. The team bought in on him. He bought in on the system, the culture. He fit right in, and I think it just made a difference in Albert and the way he’s ending his career now.”

Pujols has gained common textual content messages and FaceTime calls from former Dodgers teammates providing encouragement throughout his pursuit of 700 and is taking a look ahead to reconnecting with them this weekend.

“It was awesome,” Pujols mentioned of his Dodgers stint. “Playing there for five months and the energy of the fans and how the organization treated me with respect and honor, that was really special. And to be back in the playoffs … that place was electric. I think that’s what really helped me come back and play another year.”

When Pujols signed a one-year, $2.5-million deal to go back to St. Louis final March, it was once regarded as one thing of a goodwill gesture by way of the Cardinals, so the native icon may get a couple of at-bats towards left-handed pitchers and experience a farewell excursion with fellow Cardinals veterans Adam Wainwright, 41, and Yadier Molina, 40.

Relegated to a platoon designated hitter and pinch-hitter position, the percentages of Pujols clubbing the 21 homers he wanted for 700 gave the impression lengthy. Age and accidents had taken a toll. Pujols hit greater than 21 homers as soon as in his earlier 5 seasons.

His tepid get started to 2022 didn’t gasoline a lot hope. Pujols had a season-low .189 reasonable, .601 OPS, 4 homers and 17 RBIs in his first 43 video games — and the group’s first 87 video games — via July 4.

But a legacy variety to the July 19 All-Star Game and a shocking run to the semifinals of the home run derby in Dodger Stadium, the place his fellow All-Stars engulfed him in a gaggle hug throughout the derby, gave the impression to rejuvenate Pujols.

Pujols warmed in past due July and took off in early August. In 38 video games since Aug. 10, Pujols has hit .313 (35 for 112) with a 1.071 OPS, 12 homers — the third-most in baseball in that span — and 29 RBIs to push his season reasonable (.261) and OPS (.845) to heights he hadn’t observed since 2012, when he hit .285 with an .859 OPS, 30 homers and 105 RBIs in his first yr with the Angels.

“It was a feel-good story for him to go back to St. Louis, and I don’t think anybody had any expectations,” Dodgers first baseman Freddie Freeman mentioned. “And then he was just so energized at the All-Star Game. It was so cool to see him being youthful and doing the derby and all that stuff. A little bit of spark was lit for him.”

Fellow All- Stars pay tribute to Albert Pujols (5) during the home run derby at Dodger Stadium on July 18, 2022.

Fellow All-Stars pay tribute to Albert Pujols (5) throughout the home run derby at Dodger Stadium on July 18.

(Gina Ferazzi/Los Angeles Times)

Pujols has all the time overwhelmed left-handers — he has a occupation .301 reasonable and .954 OPS and is hitting .352 with a 1.154 OPS towards them this season— however he’s been hitting right-handers so neatly that “it’s hard to take his bat out of the lineup,” Cardinals bench trainer Skip Schumaker mentioned.

Schumaker, a former software guy who performed with Pujols from 2005-2012, mentioned the origins of Pujols’ home run barrage run deeper than the derby. A 102.5-mph lineout to left box towards Braves left-hander Will Smith within the 7th inning of a July 7 recreation in Atlanta will have been the spark.

“He got back to the dugout and said, ‘Man, I think I found something,’ ” Schumaker mentioned. “He eliminated a move in how he loads his hands, got shorter to the ball, and something clicked to where he felt kind of like he was back in the 2005-2010 era. I think he got to try it out in the home run derby.”

Pujols’ OPS of one.224 in August was once the most productive in baseball amongst gamers with 65 plate appearances or extra. His .803 slugging proportion that month marked best the 1/3 time in his occupation he slugged .800 or higher in a calendar month.

He hit 5 homers in a single five-game span from Aug. 14-20, his march towards 700 becoming a dash and fueling his group’s push from a half-game in the back of Milwaukee within the NL Central on the All-Star smash to a 7 1/2–game lead.

“I don’t know how many of those games in August we would have won without him, honestly,” Wainwright mentioned. “It’s crazy to say that because we have the No. 1 MVP candidate [Paul Goldschmidt] and the No. 2 MVP candidate [Nolan Arenado] on our team, and Albert has carried us. He was one of, if not the, biggest reason why we took the big lead in our division.”

Pujols, who’s six years older than Cardinals first-year supervisor Oliver Marmol, to begin with sneered at a query about his second-half energy surge.

“Power surge? OK, I guess I didn’t have any power, so I had to search for some,” Pujols mentioned throughout the Padres sequence. “Nothing really [changed]. I took the swing I had in spring training into the season knowing if I trust my process, like I always have for 23 years as a professional, sooner or later it’s gonna come around.

“Why it took this long, I don’t know. I think God has his ways to turn things around. But for me, it was just trying to really repeat the same swing that I’ve been doing for my whole career.”

Pujols’ run at 700 has been overshadowed by way of New York Yankees slugger Aaron Judge’s Triple Crown pursuit and construction of what may well be the best single-season offensive efficiency in baseball historical past, however in no way does that diminish Pujols’ accomplishments.

There had been some 22,800 giant league gamers, however best 3 are in baseball’s unique 700 Club, with Pujols knocking at the door, regardless of how a lot he downplays the pursuit.

Cardinals designated hitter Albert Pujols points skyward after his home run against the Diamondbacks on Aug. 20.

Cardinals designated hitter Albert Pujols issues skyward after his home run towards the Diamondbacks on Aug. 20.

(Matt York / Associated Press)

“I don’t chase numbers — I didn’t chase 100 [homers], and I’ve got 698 of them,” Pujols mentioned. “What I’m chasing is another [World Series] ring for the City of St. Louis and our fans. That’s why I signed back this year.”

The Cardinals have 11 video games left, their ultimate six towards the last-place Pittsburgh Pirates. If Pujols finishes the season caught at 698 or 699 homers, there might be no try to succeed in 700 in 2023.

Despite hanging up second-half numbers that Wainwright recognizes are “kind of surprising for a 42-year-old,” the Machine might be close down this iciness. Pujols mentioned in March that this might be his final season, and he reiterated this week that his plans haven’t modified.

“You have to go with your heart, and I think that’s why I said it in spring training, because I knew something like this was going to happen, and if I finish with a good year or have success, it was going to change my mind,” Pujols mentioned.

“But when I say something, I will do it. So I’m gonna retire after the World Series, and I’m gonna enjoy my life, my career, my family and everything I’ve accomplished in this game.”

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