Pu­jols’ 600th homer is grand

Pu­jols fi­nally makes history, and he does it in dra­matic style

Los Angeles Times - - FRONT PAGE - AN­GELS 7, MIN­NESOTA 2 By Pe­dro Moura

An­gel joins elite group of slug­gers with a grand slam in Ana­heim.

Al­bert Pu­jols dug his right foot into the dirt, then his left, and nes­tled his de­te­ri­o­rat­ing body into his fa­mous stance. He crouched, he glared, he wig­gled his maple wood bat, and he waited.

When a slider ap­proached him, he gen­tly cocked back his hands and ripped them through the strike zone, send­ing the com­mem­o­ra­tive base­ball soar­ing to­ward the left-field foul pole at An­gel Sta­dium. When Pu­jols de­buted in the ma­jor leagues, the speed of those hands rep­re­sented a rev­e­la­tion, an alarm sound­ing to all pitch­ers: Do not make a mis­take to that kid.

Six­teen years later, at age 37, he is no longer the in­de­fati­ga­ble force he once was. In six tries, he has never started a sea­son well as an An­gel. But, in any given mo­ment, Pu­jols can pro­duce a swing as vi­cious as any in base­ball. On Satur­day night, one of those vaulted Pu­jols into his rarest ter­ri­tory yet. His fourth-in­ning grand slam off of Min­nesota Twins right-han­der Ervin San­tana, his for­mer team­mate, made him the ninth ma­jor lea­guer to hit 600 home runs.

His team­mates, all much younger than him, crowded around home plate to cel­e­brate. As­sem­bled fans filmed on their smart­phones. Em­ploy­ees got to work re­plac­ing one five and two nines on the cen­ter-field bill­board the An­gels erected to laud him. Scott St­ef­fel, the 23-year-old Costa Mesa res­i­dent who caught the ball,

[An­gels, found his way to sta­dium of­fi­cials.

But be­fore it all, be­fore the ball even left the field of play, there was his in­sis­tent, ar­dent glare. The same stare sig­ni­fied so long ago that he be­lieved and you didn’t, that you doubted him and yet he knew all along he could do this.

On that count, Pu­jols was proven right long ago, his Hall of Fame fu­ture ab­so­lutely cer­tain. Still, he col­lects as fuel those who ques­tion his abil­ity to per­form at his ad­vanced age and de­creased health.

“Know­ing him, it’s not about hit­ting 600 homers,” said Toronto re­liever Joe Smith, his team­mate for three seasons. “It’s about be­ing healthy and show­ing peo­ple that he is still Al­bert.”

Now, nine men in ma­jor league history have hit 600 home runs: Barry Bonds, Hank Aaron, Babe Ruth, Alex Ro­driguez, Wil­lie Mays, Ken Grif­fey Jr., Jim Thome, Sammy Sosa and Al­bert Pu­jols. Pu­jols is the fourthy­oungest and the only one to reach it with a grand slam.

Pu­jols’ team won, 7-2, on Satur­day. Kole Cal­houn and An­drel­ton Sim­mons sup­plied ad­di­tional home runs. Righthander Matt Shoe­maker worked into the sev­enth in­ning, and man­ager Mike Scios­cia de­ployed four re­liev­ers to ac­quire the eight re­main­ing outs.

Still, the An­gels are un­der .500, and they will play with­out su­per­star Mike Trout for the next month, if not more. Mo­ments in the same strato­sphere of ex­cite­ment will be scarce. So, the buildup be­came im­mense. Many of the men who shook hands with Pu­jols near home plate Satur­day night grew up idol­iz­ing his prodi­gious power as a St. Louis Car­di­nal.

“When you played a video game, you played with Al­bert Pu­jols,” said Gar­rett Richards, the An­gels’ in­jured ace. “That was just the guy to play with back in the day. And then you watch the high­lights of what he was do­ing. It’s the best first 12 years in the big leagues of all time. And he did it through the steroid era.

“As far as ac­com­plish­ing things in this game, he’s ac­com­plished it all. Now, this is just kind of the ic­ing on the cake at the end, you know?”

Once this home­stead con­cludes Sun­day, the An­gels will move the bill­board com­mem­o­rat­ing his achievement out of view from home plate and place it be­hind the fake rock pile in cen­ter field.

As Pu­jols inched closer to No. 600, An­gels re­liever Hus­ton Street re­called his fa­ther wak­ing him up in Austin, Texas, to watch the Bal­ti­more Ori­oles change their sign when Cal Rip­ken played his 2,131st con­sec­u­tive game. He re­mem­bered watch­ing Paul Moli­tor and Ed­die Mur­ray notch their 3,000th hits.

“To wit­ness that had a pro­found ef­fect on me,” Street said. “My per­spec­tive is very sim­ple: I think Al­bert’s chase for 600 is his­toric. I think it’s some­thing sports are made for, these mo­ments. There’s some­thing beau­ti­ful about the chase, there’s some­thing honor­able about it.

“He’s one of the best hit­ters of our gen­er­a­tion, of all time, and he’s in real time. He’s still here. He’s still do­ing it.”

Robert Gau­thier Los An­ge­les Times

AL­BERT PU­JOLS IS GREETED at home plate by Ben Re­vere, and the rest of his team­mates would quickly fol­low af­ter Pu­jols’ grand slam into the left-field seats in the fourth in­ning made the 37-year-old the ninth player in MLB history to hit 600 home runs.

Robert Gau­thier L.A. Times

AL­BERT PU­JOLS gets a hug from a team­mate af­ter hit­ting his his­toric home run Satur­day.

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