WASHINGTON • Heading toward the plate after the 500th homer of his career, Albert Pujols glanced ahead and saw a throng of Los Angeles Angels teammates waiting to greet him.
He was pleased by the outpouring of support. He also had a message.
“I was pretty emotional running the bases and when I ... looked at all these guys coming out, it was hard,” Pujols said. “But I just told them, ‘We’ve got a game to win.’”
Not a problem, especially with Pujols hitting like the Pujols of old. Continuing a strong stretch, the Angels first baseman became the first major leaguer to hit his 499th and 500th homers in the same game, driving in five runs Tuesday night to help Los Angeles beat the Washington Nationals 7-2.
“I knew this year, it was going to happen, whether it was tonight, tomorrow, two months from now,” Pujols said. “So my goal was just to prepare myself every day to try to help this organization win.”
The three-time NL MVP connected twice off righthander Taylor Jordan (0-3) — a three-run homer in the first inning and two-run drive in the fifth. He’s the 26th player in big league history to reach the milestone.
“I admire the man. I admire his ability and the way he goes about playing the game, and I have for some time,” said Washington manager Matt Williams, who also played against Pujols. “I just wish he’d do it against somebody else.”
Pujols is the first player to collect his 499th and 500th homers in the same game, according to STATS. About three months past his 34th birthday, he’s also the third-youngest to get to 500; Alex Rodriguez and Jimmie Foxx were 32.
“Nobody deserves it more than he does,” the Cardinals’ Adam Wainwright said in New York after the Cards’ victory Tuesday. “He works so hard. He wants to be great, and he’s already great. He’s a Hall of Famer — years ago, he was. He is a special player.”
Cardinals manager Mike Matheny also had high praise for the slugger.
“I’m a huge Albert Pujols fan,” Matheny said. “Fortunate to know him away from the field as well. I think every one of these guys who has been a teammate of Albert realizes how special a player he is, the kind of career he’s had. … This is a special guy. (Remember) how mad everybody made him this winter. You better watch out. When he starts talking like that it’s not just empty threats. This guy has ability like nobody we’ve ever seen. Anybody can have a good year, to have that many in a row he’s in a very very elite few.”
Making a recent surge, Pujols has eight homers in the past 13 games. He leads the Angels with 19 RBIs.
“That’s the Albert I’m used to seeing,” Angels outfielder Mike Trout said. “Full, healthy, 100 percent healthy.”
The 500th homer went to left-center field at Nationals Park, on an 89 mph pitch with the count at 1-2. The ball was grabbed — and later given to Pujols — by a man who identified himself as Thomas Sherrill, a 29-year-old Air Force staff sergeant from Pomona, Calif.
“That pitch was supposed to be low and away,” Jordan said, “and I guess I tried too hard to get it there.”
Pujols clapped his hands together a few strides before trotting home, then pointed both index fingers to the sky. Fans gave Pujols a partial standing ovation, and he acknowledged it by tipping his red batting helmet as he approached the dugout. After heading down the steps, he came back out for a curtain call.
“That’s something you tell your kids when you get older. I don’t know the next guy who’s going to hit 500,” said Angels pitcher Tyler Skaggs (2-0), who gave up two runs in seven innings. “Nobody knows how to react. You don’t see it too much.”
Teammates said that Pujols told shortstop Erick Aybar before the game he was going to hit two homers.
“Albert’s Albert. If he tells you something, he’s going to do it,” Trout said. “I’m not surprised he said that, because I’ve seen it before. He’s told me, ‘I’m going deep tonight.’”
After a couple of down-for-him years with the Angels following 11 transcendent seasons with the Cardinals, Pujols appears ready to reclaim his spot among the game’s elite hitters. He homered Friday and Saturday at Detroit to lift his total to 498, and now he’s reached the round number of 500 — a total that remains hallowed despite losing luster lately because so many players surpassed it.
Of the 26 members of the 500-homer club, 11 reached the mark in the last 15 years, according to STATS. Gary Sheffield was the previous player to do it, hitting No. 500 in April 2009.
“You don’t see 500, obviously, every night,” Pujols said. “It’s been a great career.”
The Cardinals selected him in the 13th round of the 1999 draft, with the 402nd overall selection — a steal if ever there was one. Pujols won a batting title in 2003, National League MVP awards in 2005, 2008 and 2009, and World Series titles with the Cardinals in 2006 and 2011. Pujols was the first player to hit 30 homers in each of his first 12 seasons and the second — after Al Simmons in 1924-34 — to reach 100 RBIs in each of his first 10.
Derrick Goold of the Post-Dispatch contributed to this report.