LOS ANGELES (AP) — Albert Pujols seemed like a long shot in early August to reach 700 home runs, still more than a dozen swings from the hallowed mark and his power stroke all but gone.
Or so it appeared.
Now showing the pop of his youth in the final weeks of his career, the 42-year-old slugger got there with two long shots.
Pujols hit his 700th home run, connecting for his second drive of the game and becoming the fourth player in major league history to make it to the milestone as the St. Louis Cardinals routed the Los Angeles Dodgers 11-0 Friday night.
Pujols joined Barry Bonds (762 homers), Hank Aaron (755) and Babe Ruth (714) in one of baseball’s most exclusive clubs.
“Don’t get me wrong, I know where my places stand in this game, but since Day One when I made my debut, I was never about numbers, never about chasing numbers,” Pujols said. “It was always about winning championships and tried to get better in these games.”
Dodgers manager Dave Roberts gladly gushed about Pujols’ accomplishment.
“This is like the Mount Rushmore of sluggers, so to reach that 700-home run mark, it’s remarkable,” Roberts said.
A man wearing a blue Dodgers shirt with Hideo Nomo’s No. 16 on the back snagged the 700th homer ball. He was whisked under the stands as he clutched a black glove containing the historic souvenir ball to his chest. Prolonged negotiations went on before the man was escorted out of Dodger Stadium flanked by 10 security personnel and into a waiting SUV.
“Souvenirs are for the fans,” Pujols said. “I don’t have any problem if they want to keep it. That’s why the fans come here, to have a special moment of history.”
Stirring up images of his dominant days as a three-time NL MVP, Pujols hit No. 699 in the third inning, then launched No. 700 in the fourth.
A 37-year-old Los Angeles man, Cesar Soriano, snagged No. 699. He turned the ball over to security after being told he could meet Pujols.
It’s been a remarkable and resurgent run for Pujols. This was his 14th home run since the start of August for the NL Central-leading Cardinals, and his 21st of the season.
Roberts marveled at the improbability in July of Pujols making history in late September.
“I wouldn’t doubt him, but the stars seem to kind of have to align for it to play out like this,” Roberts said. “I don’t think Albert even thought it was a possibility.”
Now, no one needs to wonder whether Pujols would’ve come back for a few extra swings next year had he finished this season at 699 or so.
Pujols took extra pleasure in making his mark at Dodger Stadium, where he said he regained his joy for the game while with the Dodgers last season.
“It’s pretty special, especially with the Dodgers fans, to do it here,” Pujols said. “And, you get to see both sides, they get to enjoy this and to do it in a Cardinals uniform is really special.”
Pujols’ historic homer was a three-run shot against reliever Phil Bickford. The ball landed in the first couple rows of the left-field pavilion, the same location his two-run shot touched down the previous inning off left-hander Andrew Heaney.
“At first, I was upset … and then when the crowd reacted and seen all the smiles, it was a very special moment for MLB,” Bickford said. “Albert Pujols is one of the most amazing people I’ve ever met.”
Pujols jogged around the bases smiling all the way. After crossing the plate and pointing his fingers skyward, Pujols went over to greet fellow Dominican Republic and former Dodgers star Adrian Beltre. They high-fived through the protective netting.
Then he was off to the Cardinals dugout, getting hugs and congratulations every step of the way.
Pujols received a prolonged standing ovation from the crowd — he finished out last season while playing for the Dodgers. He took a curtain call, raising his cap in acknowledgment.
The crowd of 50,041 chanted “Pujols! Pujols!” The fans finally sat down after being on their feet in anticipation of seeing history.
Later in the Cardinals clubhouse, his teammates “gave me a little shower, a little toast,” Pujols said.
Pujols’ 700th homer gave him a couple of other nice, round numbers, too — he has hit 500 home runs off right-handers and 200 off lefties.
His achievement was celebrated beyond Chavez Ravine.
At Chase Field in Phoenix, the San Francisco Giants were meeting on the mound when the 700th homer was shown on the videoboard, prompting veteran third baseman Evan Longoria to applaud, along with the Diamondbacks’ crowd.
At Target Field in Minneapolis, Shohei Ohtani pitched the Los Angeles Angels to a win and then said through an interpreter: “I’m really glad he got to 700. … It was an honor to be a teammate of his. He’s raking this year, so it feels like he’s got a lot more left in the tank.”
Hall of Fame pitcher Pedro Martinez tweeted about his fellow star from the Dominican: “You are the man!!”
Pujols connected twice on the same night New York Yankees slugger Aaron Judge remained on deck for home run history. He remained at 60 homers, just short of tying Roger Maris’ AL mark of 61 in 1961, in a win at Yankee Stadium.
Lars Nootbaar, Juan Yepez and Alec Burleson also homered for St. Louis.
Pujols struck out swinging in his first at-bat against Heaney and grounded out to short in the sixth. He was replaced in the eighth by Burleson, who added a pinch-hit homer.
José Quintana (6-6) got the victory. He scattered five hits over 6 2/3 innings and struck out six.
Cardinals outfielder Corey Dickerson pitched the ninth. With the bases loaded, he retired Trayce Thompson on a flyball to end the game.
Heaney (3-3) was tagged in the most-lopsided loss this year for the NL West-leading Dodgers.
Pujols snapped a tie with Alex Rodriguez for fourth on the career list when he hit career homer No. 697 against Pittsburgh on Sept. 11.
Batting .189 on July 4, Pujols started to find his stroke in August, swatting seven homers in one 10-game stretch that helped St. Louis pull away in the division race.
Pujols has enjoyed a productive season after returning to St. Louis in March for a $2.5 million, one-year contract. It’s his highest total since he hit 23 homers for the Angels in 2019.
He plans to retire when the season ends.
Pujols began his career in St. Louis. He was selected by the Cardinals in the 13th round of the 1999 amateur draft and won the 2001 NL Rookie of the Year award.
He has hit at least .300 with at least 30 homers and 100 RBIs in each of his first 10 seasons. He helped the Cardinals to World Series titles in 2006 and 2011.
He set a career high with 49 homers in 2006 — one of seven seasons with at least 40 homers. He led the majors with 47 homers in 2009 and topped the NL with 42 in 2010.
Pujols left St. Louis in free agency in December 2011, signing a $240 million, 10-year contract with the Angels. He was waived by the Angels in May 2021, and then joined the Dodgers and hit 12 homers and drove in 38 runs in 85 games.
Dodgers: All-Star RHP Tony Gonsolin (forearm) will throw two innings in a rehab assignment Tuesday for Triple-A Oklahoma City. … LHP David Price (wrist) will throw to live hitters again in a couple days.
HONORING ALBERT AND YADI
The Dodgers honored Cardinals teammates Pujols and catcher Yadier Molina, both of whom are retiring at season’s end.
The players were greeted by a standing ovation when they strode to home plate before the game. Their career highlights were shown on the stadium’s big screens.
Both players were presented with white golf bags before Pujols took the mic and thanked his former teammates and fans for treating him well during his lone season in LA last year.
Cardinals: LHP Jordan Montgomery (8-5, 3.26 ERA) makes his second road start with the team since coming from the Yankees. He tossed a one-hit shutout in his other one against the Chicago Cubs on Aug. 22 in a 1-0 victory.
Dodgers: LHP Clayton Kershaw (9-3, 2.39) makes his 20th start of the season. He has 117 strikeouts in 109 1/3 innings.
AP freelance writer Jolene Latimer contributed to this report.
More AP MLB: https://apnews.com/hub/mlb and https://twitter.com/AP_Sports