Pujols’ 600th homer is grand
Pujols finally makes history, and he does it in dramatic style
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.”
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.
ALBERT PUJOLS gets a hug from a teammate after hitting his historic home run Saturday.