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Albert Pujols Is Fourth Player to 700 Home Runs

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It was June 2001, the primary half of the primary season of a profession no person saw coming. Albert Pujols was back in Kansas City, Mo., where he had played two years earlier for a community college that had never produced a significant league player. Now, as a St. Louis Cardinals rookie, he was someway batting .350 with lots of home runs. But how good was he, really?

“The sensation that day was that you simply’ve got this whole lineup of 10-year veterans coming at you — Mark McGwire, Jim Edmonds — so don’t let any of those guys beat you,” said Chad Durbin, who began that night for the Royals, recalling a scouting meeting with a coach. “Jamie Quirk told me, ‘I believe your stuff goes to beat Pujols’ — and he didn’t even call him that, he pronounced it improper. You only didn’t know much about him.”

The education was swift and convincing. Pujols singled twice before punishing a curveball for a homer within the ninth inning, spoiling Durbin’s likelihood for his first profession complete game. It was the twentieth profession home run for Pujols on a journey that has lasted greater than 20 years.

“That home run off me is sufficiently old to drink; it’s sufficiently old to go order a beer on the bar,” said Durbin, who’s 44 and has been retired for nine years. “I used to be doing good by baseball, though, just attempting to help the sport out. I did my part.”

Pujols has said he’ll retire at the tip of this season, and on Friday he won his race against the tip. He reached 700 profession home runs by homering twice against the Dodgers in Los Angeles, joining essentially the most exclusive home run neighborhood of all. Before Pujols, only Babe Ruth (in 1934), Hank Aaron (1973) and Barry Bonds (2004) had reached 700.

Bonds finished his profession with essentially the most homers, 762, followed by Aaron at 755 and Ruth at 714. But Pujols, on this age of specialization and supersized bullpens, has homered off more pitchers than anyone: 455.

That total remains to be growing. Each homers on Friday got here off latest victims: His 434-foot shot to left within the third inning got here off Dodgers starter Andrew Heaney, and his 389-footer within the fourth inning was off the reliever Phil Bickford. Neither had ever faced Pujols before Friday night’s game.

“People ask me on a regular basis: ‘Who’s the hardest hitter you ever faced?’” said Glendon Rusch, 47, who gave up three homers to Pujols in 40 profession at-bats. “And I at all times say Albert. Especially when he was in his prime, he could do essentially the most damage in essentially the most alternative ways.”

Ruth spread his homers across 216 different pitchers, and Aaron across 310. Each sluggers retired long before the introduction of interleague play in 1997, midway through Bonds’s profession. Bonds connected off 449 different pitchers, a mark Pujols reached on Aug. 22 against Drew Smyly of the Chicago Cubs.

“How he’s playing right away, he’s definitely a distinct Albert Pujols than what I saw when he was with the Angels,” Smyly said. “I never got a likelihood to face him when he was with the Cardinals early in his profession, when he was just essentially the most dominant player on the market. But right away it feels as if he’s that guy again.”

Pujols is ending with a flourish nearly as improbable as his rise at the beginning. Playing on a part-time basis in his farewell season, his .509 slugging percentage through Thursday was his highest since 2011, the ultimate yr of his first stint in St. Louis.

Pujols averaged greater than 40 homers per yr with the Cardinals from 2001 through 2011, slugging .617 overall. Then he left for a $240 million contract with the Angels, and averaged just 23 homers per yr with a .448 slugging percentage across the 10-year deal. The Angels released him last May, and he finished the 2021 season with the Dodgers.

Yet while Pujols batted just .256 with the Angels — in comparison with .328 before that — his presence at all times loomed for opposing pitchers, especially with runners on base. Pujols, who trails only Aaron and Ruth on the profession list for R.B.I., with 2,208, drove in a minimum of 93 runs in six of his first eight seasons with the Angels.

“Within the Anaheim days, obviously he didn’t hit for average, but I believe R.B.I.s are an enormous thing, and he had over 100 R.B.I.s for a superb stretch,” said the right-hander Taijuan Walker of the Mets. “He was at all times productive. He did his job to drive guys in, and that might be with a sac fly or a double he’d poke the opposite way. That’s what made it tough.”

Walker added his name to Pujols’s list with profession home run No. 587 in September 2016. Walker, who was then with the Seattle Mariners, had held Pujols to 1 hit in 10 at-bats before then, but this was not his day.

“I don’t even know if I got an out — home run, home run, home run, hit the showers,” said Walker, who gave up three in a row and got only two outs in the primary inning. “Albert finished it off for me. I believe it was a fastball, left-center. It was pretty deep, too. I remember they said he couldn’t get to the fastball up, but he could get to it down, so I used to be attempting to beat him up. And I believe lots of his home runs now are up.”

That was the pitch Smyly tried last month within the seventh inning of a scoreless game at Wrigley Field: a 1-2 fastball at 93 miles an hour, high above the outer half of the plate. Pujols swatted it into the primary row of the left field bleachers for homer No. 693, the one run of the sport. The pitch was 4.23 feet off the bottom, in response to Statcast, making it the second-highest pitch hit for a homer within the majors this season.

“Early in the sport, though, I threw him a curveball down below the zone — and he hit that off the wall, too,” Smyly said. “He’s just locked in.”

Pujols broke one other scoreless tie against the Cubs on Sept. 4 at Busch Stadium in St. Louis, lifting Brandon Hughes’s fastball for a towering drive over the left field bullpen within the eighth inning. Hughes, a rookie, insisted that Pujols’s résumé made no difference to him — “I don’t put a reputation on a hitter after I’m on the market,” he said — but he clearly knew Pujols’s history.

“I’m from Detroit, so we lost to the Cardinals,” said Hughes, who was 10 years old when Pujols led St. Louis to the 2006 World Series title. “I say ‘we,’ because I used to be a Tigers fan growing up.”

Pujols homered to right field off Justin Verlander in Game 1 of that World Series, demonstrating a trait he is understood for. Amongst the various pitchers he has beaten for homers are a few of one of the best to ever take the mound.

“Jim Leyland mentioned this after I was in Detroit with him: ‘Albert Pujols and people guys, they hit really good pitching very well,’” Durbin said, referring to the previous Tigers manager. “That’s what I take into consideration with Albert: he hit good, quality pitches really hard — after which whenever you made mistakes, he punished those. And that’s the difference between the fellows which have a .280 profession average with 350 home runs, which is a heck of a profession, and a man like him.”

Ace pitchers from the last decade often confounded Pujols; Corey Kluber and Chris Sale have combined to carry him to a few hits in 44 at-bats, with only one home run (off the left-handed Sale in 2012).

But consider this greater collection of mostly retired standouts, a bunch with 23 Cy Young Awards amongst them: Roger Clemens, Tom Glavine, Randy Johnson, Clayton Kershaw, Greg Maddux and Johan Santana. Pujols smashed 10 homers off them — including five off Johnson — while batting a combined .367.

A .367 average is one point higher than the best profession mark in history, by Ty Cobb. So while Pujols will at all times symbolize slugging, do not forget that power was only a part of the package.

Against Clemens, Glavine, Johnson, Kershaw, Maddux and Santana, he was even higher than Cobb.

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