LOS ANGELES — Albert Pujols crossed home plate and darted to the backstop to double-high-five Adrian Beltre, his longtime rival, fellow countryman and devoted friend. He 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.
“My emotions came out,” Pujols said in Spanish.
The enormity of 700 home runs, which Pujols reached amid a thrilling two-homer performance Friday night, had finally hit him. But it was more than that. It was that it happened in Los Angeles, which meant his five children could all be there to witness it. It was that it happened in this place, Dodger Stadium, the ballpark that he said “gave me life” and propelled him to keep moving forward.
“What a special night,” Pujols said from the interview room, with his children standing behind him.
In the fourth, he got a hanging slider from righty Phil Bickford and lifted it 389 feet to become the fourth member of the hallowed 700 home run club, joining Barry Bonds, Hank Aaron and Babe Ruth while leading his team to an 11-0 rout.
Pujols, 42, is the only one among the four to hit Nos. 699 and 700 on the same night. He has 2,208 RBIs for his career, which ranks second all time behind Aaron’s 2,297. He also crossed 1,400 extra-base hits, benchmarks reached by only Aaron and Bonds.
“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.”
Pujols joined the Dodgers last May, shortly after his release by the Los Angeles Angels, and was reinvigorated while serving as a part-time starter and late-game pinch-hitter. He was effective against left-handers and was a major influence in a veteran-laden clubhouse that lovingly called him “Tio Albert.”
But the Dodgers might have given him more than he gave back to them. Playing on such a talented team in playoff atmospheres provided him with a jolt of energy that often eluded him while on middling Angels teams for most of the decade.
During batting practice Friday, hours before the Dodgers played a video montage in his honor, Pujols told Dodgers manager Dave Roberts and president of baseball operations Andrew Friedman that, had they not signed him last year, he might not have come back in 2022.
“It’s humbling,” Roberts said. “I do know that, in talking to him at times last year, he did allude to the fact that we brought the joy back, him being a Dodger.”
Pujols’ final season has seen him play some of his best baseball down the stretch. His second-half OPS, 1.076, ranks second only to that of Aaron Judge, and his surge has coincided with the Cardinals practically running away from the rest of the National League Central.
Pujols is batting .265/.338/.530 for the season. 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 multi-homer game after turning 42, the most in major league history.
The fan who caught the historic baseball wasn’t willing to give it up in a trade for memorabilia — at least not initially — but Pujols didn’t seem to mind.
“Souvenirs are for the fans,” Pujols said. “If they wanna keep it, they can. At the end of the day, I don’t focus on material stuff. I think I have the bat, the uniform, helmet, things that are special to me. At the end of the day, I think that’s why the fans come here — to have a special moment of history. So if they wanna keep that baseball, I don’t have any problem with that.”
Pujols has had a knack for reaching milestone home runs in emphatic fashion. No. 500 came on the same night as 499. No. 600 was a grand slam. No. 700 came an inning after 699.
The night ended in a postgame clubhouse celebration that saw Pujols squeeze into a laundry cart to be doused by beer.
“Imagine me jumping in there,” Pujols said. “I struggled getting out.”
Pujols then thanked his teammates and told them how special it was that he could reach this milestone with a Cardinals uniform on, with his children present and with the Dodgers on the other side.
“It’s amazing how God works,” Pujols said. “This could’ve happened last week in St. Louis, which probably would have been awesome. But to allow it to happen tonight, having my family and friends and people who really care and love me see me — it’s special to me.”