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700! With two homers in LA, Cardinals great Albert Pujols launches himself into exclusive club

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Pujols hits 700

The Cardinals' Albert Pujols hits home run No. 700 in the fourth inning against the Los Angeles Dodgers on Friday, Sept. 23, 2022 at Dodger Stadium. 

LOS ANGELES — With one swing, that familiar snap of his shoulders, and the signature glare as a baseball vanishes in the distance, Cardinals great Albert Pujols launched himself into one of the most exclusive clubs in baseball.

He’ll need to update his autograph.

One inning after he launched the 699th home run of his career, Pujols hit his 700th to join Hank Aaron, Babe Ruth, and Barry Bonds as the only players in Major League Baseball history to reach the once unreachable milestone.

Pujols’ second homer of the game came in the fourth inning off Dodgers reliever Phil Bickford and gave him five RBIs in the game. Pujols had homered in the third inning off LA’s starter Andrew Heaney. The three-time MVP was celebrated before the game as a former Dodger, and he took the microphone to thank the crowd for “bringing back the joy” he first had playing the game as a boy.

He then brought that joy to them.

The crowd was euphoric as if he was still a home player, and after rounding the bases for the 700th time in his career, he went to clasp hands with former player Adrian Beltre. It was Beltre’s career record that Pujols broke to become the all-time leader in hits by a player not born in the United States.

A few weeks after describing how proud he was to represent his country, the Dominican Republic, in the chase for 700, Pujols is the first Latin player to join the club and the first member who was not born in the United States.

All season, visiting players have sent armfuls of items over to the Cardinals’ clubhouse for Pujols to sign, and on several of them he lists his three NL MVPs and round-number achievements such as 3,000 hits, 2,000 RBIs, and 600 home runs. They’ll need a rewrite.

“If God has that in store for me, I will be blessed,” Pujols said as he approached No. 700.

The rush toward 700 happened fast as Pujols came out of his All-Star Game appearance and Home Run Derby with one of the finest second halves of his career. At 42, he slugged .803 in August and had a 1.049 OPS in the first 44 games after the All-Star break. His 700th homer was his 21st of the season – 13 of them coming after Aug. 1.

He hit a two-run homer for a 2-0 victory with his last career swing against the rival Chicago Cubs. In one stretch of six homers, five of them either tied the game for the Cardinals or put them ahead in a game they’d win. Deployed as a pinch-hitter with the bases loaded in the third inning of a home game against Colorado, Pujols drilled his first career pinch-hit grand slam. That was home run No. 690. It came on Aug. 18.

Teammate Adam Wainwright warned that Pujols can get “homer happy,” and as he closed in on Alex Rodriguez’s 696 career home runs Pujols’ surge elated his peers and captivated baseball fans beyond Busch Stadium.

“I think he’s going to be able to do it,” slugger Mark McGwire said when Pujols reached No. 693. “He kills lefties, but he’s also doing really well against righties. That’s not shocking. He’s had a run of injuries for a few years in Anaheim that there’s no question we wouldn’t be talking about 700. We might be talking about 800.”

Pujols hit his first home run in the majors on April 6, 2001, at Arizona. His first homer at home came for the Cardinals on April 9, 2001, at Busch Stadium II. He hit his 100th home run on July 20, 2003 at Dodger Stadium, and his 200th followed two seasons later vs. Cincinnati on Sept. 30. He hit No. 300 on the Fourth of July in 2008. He became the third-youngest player to reach 400 home runs when he connected at Nationals Park on Aug. 26, 2010. He hit No. 500 in Washington on April 22 with the Angels. No. 600 came June 3, 2017 in Anaheim.

During MLB’s shortened 2020 season, on Sept. 18, Pujols hit his 661st home run to vault ahead of Willie Mays, the Hall of Fame outfielder Pujols’ father always praised.

Of the 700, 466 came with the Cardinals, the team that drafted him in 1999.

Three came against them.

Major League Baseball dispatched officials to shadow Pujols to make sure the items from the historic home run would be authenticated. His jersey. His bat. His cleats. Whatever he wished or wished to give to halls of fame. Starting immediately after No. 699, the baseballs pitched to Pujols had a visible code on them and also an invisible mark, the location of which was known only to two people and could only be revealed by proprietary technology. That would allow MLB to identify the ball if it disappeared into the crowd.

Pujols, after all, did not have to watch it to know No. 700 was gone.

“Look, when you’ve hit 700 home runs, you know when it goes over the fence or not,” former teammate Matt Holliday said. “When you talk about 700 home runs and getting close to 700 home runs and how low you have to play and how long you have to be awesome at hitting home runs, it’s almost mind-blowing. You have to start really young. You have to play really old. And you have to be awesome a lot in between.”

Watch Albert Pujols hit home runs No. 699, 700, become fourth player in exclusive club
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