Cards’ Pujols inches closer, clubs 699th homer

    ESPN baseball reporter. Covered the L.A. Rams for ESPN from 2016 to 2018 and the L.A. Angels for from 2012 to 2016.

LOS ANGELES — Albert Pujols launched the 699th home run of his career, a no-doubt, 434-foot shot to left-center field off Los Angeles Dodgers left-hander Andrew Heaney in the third inning Friday night that gave the St. Louis Cardinals a 2-0 lead.

The Cardinals are playing their 152nd game of the season, and Pujols is only one home run away from joining Barry Bonds, Hank Aaron and Babe Ruth in the distinguished 700 home run club. The team plays two more in Los Angeles, then a two-game series in Milwaukee before returning to St. Louis for its final homestand of the season, a three-game set.

Pujols’ two-run shot gave him 2,205 RBIs for his career, nine away from tying Ruth for the second-most all time.

It’s fitting, perhaps, that Pujols finds himself on the doorstep of history in L.A., a place he has often said played a big part in energizing him to play one final season in 2022.

Pujols, 42, joined the Dodgers last May, shortly after his release from the Los Angeles Angels, and was reinvigorated while serving as a part-time starter and late-game pinch-hitter over the last five-plus months. He was effective against left-handers, and he was a major influence in a veteran-laden clubhouse that lovingly called him “Tio Albert.”

Before Friday’s game, the Dodgers played a montage for Pujols, with Julio Urias, Hanser Alberto, Justin Turner, Max Muncy, Will Smith and manager Dave Roberts providing heartfelt messages. Pujols and Yadier Molina were gifted golf bags to commemorate their final seasons, then Pujols grabbed the mic to thank the Dodgers’ fans and their organization.

“It brought me so much joy, not just to me, but to my family,” Pujols said before the game. “I think it brought something inside me, that little boy once again that was missing that part of the game.”

Pujols’ final season has seen him play some of his best baseball down the stretch. He entered Friday’s game batting .313/.378/.657 with 13 home runs and 33 RBIs in 47 second-half games, during which he passed Alex Rodriguez (696) for sole possession of fourth place on the all-time home runs list. His surge has coincided with the Cardinals practically running away from the rest of the National League Central.

Pujols began this season as a platoon option at DH, but he has morphed into one of the Cardinals’ most consistent hitters and is basically an everyday player as they venture into the postseason.

Pujols now has 18 20-homer seasons, third-most in major league history behind only Aaron (20) and Bonds (19). He joins Bonds as the only players ever with 20 homers at age 42 or older, according to ESPN Stats & Information research.

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