3,000 and count­ing:

Along with more than 600 home runs, Al­bert Pu­jols joins an ex­clu­sive club, but the hit to­tal means the most to him.

USA TODAY Sports Weekly - - INSIDE - Bob Night­en­gale

This is the one. This is the hit that meant the most to Al­bert Pu­jols.

In a Hall of Fame ca­reer in which Pu­jols has won three MVP awards and two World Se­ries cham­pi­onships, it was last week’s achieve­ment that meant more to him than ev­ery other in­di­vid­ual ac­co­lade.

Pu­jols joined the il­lus­tri­ous 3,000-hit club May 4, be­com­ing the fourth player in base­ball his­tory to hit 600 home runs and col­lect 3,000 hits in a ca­reer.

“Get­ting 3,000 hits mean the most as far as in­di­vid­ual num­bers,” Pu­jols told USA TO­DAY, “more than the home runs, more than any­thing, but I’ll tell you that 2,000 RBI is pretty close. That’s pretty spe­cial.”

In­deed, by the end of the sea­son, Pu­jols and Hank Aaron should be the only play­ers in his­tory to have at least 3,000 hits, 2,000 RBI and 600 homers.

Yet for this glo­ri­ous night, Pu­jols still achieved a feat that only 31 play­ers have ac­com­plished be­fore him, and only three ever demon­strated that kind of power, with 1,262 of his hits go­ing for ex­tra bases.

It was an evening worth cel­e­brat­ing through­out all of base­ball.

Yet it was an event only a pre­cious few paid any mind.

The base­ball world talked about Ichiro Suzuki join­ing the Mariners front of­fice, Mookie Betts’ stun­ning home run surge and the Braves’ as­cen­sion to first place in the Na­tional League East, but it was as if Pu­jols’ feat was an af­ter­thought.

Pu­jols, 38, is the slug­ger who time has for­got­ten since leav­ing St. Louis af­ter the 2011 sea­son, but why isn’t he in Amer­ica’s con­scious­ness now?

Do we re­ally have that short of an at­ten­tion span?

“All I know,” Pu­jols said, “is that it means ev­ery­thing to me. It means you were a com­plete hit­ter. That’s all I wanted to be, and to help my team win.”

It doesn’t mat­ter that Pu­jols, who joined Aaron, Wil­lie Mays and Alex Ro­driguez as the only mem­bers of the 3,000hit, 600-homer club, is in de­cline. It shouldn’t make a dif­fer­ence that Mike Trout is the big­gest star of this team, Sho­hei Oh­tani is the big­gest show or that the An­gels fi­nally are in a di­vi­sion race.

This evening be­longed to Pu­jols, and base­ball should for­ever sa­vor it.

We’re watch­ing one of the great­est hit­ters of all time, and it would be a shame if he’s not ap­pre­ci­ated while still in uni­form, with 3 1⁄2 years re­main­ing on his 10-year, $240 million con­tract.

“As long as I can look at my­self in the mir­ror and know I did ev­ery­thing I could to help my ball­club win,” Pu­jols said, “I don’t re­gret any­thing.

“I think I’ll have plenty of time at the end of my ca­reer to look back to see where I am re­gard­ing num­bers.

“But I’ll be hon­est, get­ting to 3,000 hits, that’s pretty spe­cial.”

Pu­jols and Miguel Cabr­era of the Tigers will be known as the two great­est right-handed hit­ters of our gen­er­a­tion, but with Pu­jols three years older and with the two World Se­ries ti­tles to Cabr­era’s one, he’ll be the one more ac­com­plished.

“He’s the best, the best I’ve ever seen,” Cabr­era told USA TO­DAY. “There’s no one like Al­bert. I’ve watched him my whole life. Ev­ery­one wants to be like him. He’s un­be­liev­able.”

Pu­jols stopped be­ing in the con­ver­sa­tion as the best in the game the mo­ment he left St. Louis af­ter the 2011 sea­son. Those days of win­ning three MVP awards and hit­ting .328 and av­er­ag­ing 40 homers and 121 RBI with a .420 on-base per­cent­age and .617 slug­ging per­cent­age, as he did for 11 years in St. Louis, are over.

In his first six years with the An­gels, he’s hit­ting .262 and av­er­ag­ing 28 homers and 98 RBI with a .319 on-base per­cent­age and .459 slug­ging per­cent­age.

Can we still cher­ish Pu­jols’ en­tire body of work, and not mock the de­clin­ing years of an ag­ing star?

Af­ter all, even the great­est hit­ters of all time have never over­come Fa­ther Time.

“The one thing about Al­bert is he’s not look­ing back,” An­gels man­ager Mike Scios­cia told re­porters last week, “and say­ing, ‘I did this. I did that.’ His nick­name, ‘The Ma­chine,’ is not just for his hit­ting pro­fi­ciency. It’s like his will to play. He comes out here ev­ery day and wants to help his team win a game.

“There is an in­cred­i­ble makeup you need to be that good for that long. He’s ob­vi­ously an ex­cep­tional tal­ent. You com­bine it with all the in­tan­gi­bles, and you see why he’s in rar­efied air for what he’s ac­com­plished.

“Four guys, in all the ca­reers in base­ball of great, great play­ers, to do what he’s do­ing, I think says it all.”

Pu­jols’ great­est years, of course, were in St. Louis, but he likely will go into the Hall of Fame wear­ing no cap out of re­spect to An­gels owner Arte Moreno. Be­sides, once he’s done play­ing, he has a 10-year, $10 million per­sonal ser­vices con­tract.

For now, let’s en­joy one of the great­est hit­ters we will ever see.

“If you would have told me 17 years ago when I was drafted by the Car­di­nals that I would have a ca­reer like this,” Pu­jols says, “I would have laughed at you. God is good. It’s been a bless­ing.”


Al­bert Pu­jols


Mike Trout and friends con­verge to con­grat­u­late An­gels slug­ger Al­bert Pu­jols on his 3,000th hit.

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