In one of the strangest, but most memorable, sights you'll see at a big-league ballpark, the Angels' Albert Pujols got a standing ovation before his at-bat in the seventh inning, and then got an even bigger one a few minutes later when he hit a home run into the Angels bullpen on Saturday at Busch Stadium.
The 408-foot blast, which cut the Cardinals lead to 4-1, ended with his traditional look and point to the sky when he got to home plate, which got the crowd going even louder, and then a request for a curtain call, thought to be the first for an opposing player at Busch Stadium III. Pujols gave teammate Mike Trout a big hug when he entered the dugout, then came out and waved to the crowd. It was as though he never left.
"Too bad we lost the game, you know," Pujols said. "But we were able to do something special for the fans. It's been amazing.
"Thanking God I was able to hit it out. You don't think much. You just hear the crowd in that moment, as you are walking around the base. Everybody being excited."
"I guess Cardinals fans got what they wanted today," Angels manager Brad Ausmus said. "They got a win, and they got an Albert home run. They have always been very respectful fans."
The Cardinals won 4-2, but what most of the sellout crowd of 46,711 will remember was Pujols' home run. They may not have been there for his first game back, but they saw a transcendent moment of a city's love affair with a player, even after he has gone.
"It’s a unique situation," manager Mike Shildt said. "What a special moment for him and for the whole stadium, and really Cardinal nation. Listen, he’s an icon. and a living legend. Very few of them have a chance to come back and perform. So you know it is unusual for sure. but thankfully it didn’t factor into the end result of the competition."
The finish of the game took a twist when Jordan Hicks, one out away from closing out the game, was visited by the trainer and manager Mike Shildt and left the game. Hicks was stretching his arm on the mound after striking out David Fletcher for the second out, setting off alarm bells. Hicks said he felt he could have gotten the last out but the team decided to err on the side of caution. He'll have more tests tomorrow, but the his initial feeling was that he would take a few days off
"I just felt the back of the triceps area my last couple throws," Hicks said. "I don't know if I was grimacing or not. Maybe I could have got the next guy out, but was it worth it? I don't know. We made the decision to come out in that moment.
"Couple days, see where we're at, get re-evaluated, and maybe one or two days throwing off, be back in, maybe a week, who knows? At this moment, it's triceps tendinitis and we're working through it."
"It’s favorable," Shildt said of the initial reports. "Just felt a little some fatigue in his triceps area. Nothing too crazy. Just a little more of a cramp. We’ll do imaging. It’s not like we feel like we need to do imaging right now. It’s not in an area where we feel there’s an structural or UCL related – he was actually saying, look, I can finish this, it’s just a little tight. But it was good. Yadi saw it. saw it the hitter before. Kind of went from there."
Tyler Webb came in to get the final out.
It was Pujols' first home run in Busch since Sept. 22, 2011, in the fifth inning off Chris Capuano of the Mets. Saturday's home run was the 13th of the season for Pujols. It was Pujols' 111th home run at Busch Stadium III, extending his record.
The home run also snapped a run of 59 innings by Cardinals starter Dakota Hudson with allowing a home run. After all the excitement that followed Pujols' homer, and the ensuing delay, Hudson got back on the mound and retired the next two hitters he faced.
"It's no disruption, the guy deserves that ovation," Hudson said. "He's done a lot for this organization. Everybody knows who he is when you play for the Cardinals. ... I was out there trying to compete. I took in the moments, I enjoyed what I was doing out there and tried to execute and be best competitor I could."
"Dakota is a mentally tough young man, and mature," Shildt said. "So he’s a tough guy. He’s a bulldog, literally. as far as the way he competes. Doesn’t surprise me he came right back. That’s what competitors do. They embrace moments, when something doesn’t quite go your way get back after it and execute, and that’s what he did."
The Cardinals did not hit the ball hard as they scored twice in the fifth inning against the Angels, but they hit it in the right place and let the Angels take it from there. Marcell Ozuna did hit it hard in the sixth as the Cardinals lead was extended to 4-0.
The fifth inning began with a bloop single into shallow right field by Yadier Molina, followed by a ground out by Dexter Fowler that allowed Molina to take second. Kolten Wong walked, bringing Cardinals pitcher Dakota Hudson to the plate.
Hudson bunted toward third base and Angels pitcher Felix Pena pounced on it with a chance to get Molina at third, but his throw was wild and went down the third-base line. Molina jogged in with a run Wong came around from first to also score. Hudson ended up on second.
The Cardinals had a chance to add a third when a pitch Pena went between catcher Jonathan Lucroy's legs for a wild pitch. The Angels' comedy of errors continued when Matt Carpenter popped a pitch up toward first. With Albert Pujols waiting under it, third baseman David Fletcher, on that side of the field on a shift, came over and bumped into Pujols as he too tried to catch it and the ball fell. Carpenter eventually struck out and Paul DeJong lined out to third to end the inning.
In the sixth, Paul Goldschmidt led off with a single to center and Ozuna followed with a 3-2 blast to the second deck in left field for his 20th home run of the season.
Day 2 of the Pujols homecoming saw him get applauded when he ran in the outfield before the game, saw him get applauded when he stepped into the on-deck circle, saw him get a standing ovation each time he came up to the plate. Pujols was retired in his first two at-bats, grounding out in the second and fourth innings. After the home run, Pujols led off the ninth for the Angels, facing Cardinals flame thrower Jordan Hicks, and grounded out to second, getting another ovation as he jogged back to the dugout while the crowd, having seen what they came to see, headed for the exits.
The Angels loaded the bases with one out in the third but Hudson got Justin Upton to pop out and Kole Calhoun to line out to end the inning. Hudson struck out the side in the sixth inning.
Hudson went seven innings, allowing only five hits and one run -- on the Pujols homer -- and striking out six to improve to 6-3.
GYORKO TO HAVE SURGERY ON WRIST
Cardinals infielder Jedd Gyorko, already on the injured list with a calf injury, will have what manager Mike Shildt said was minor arthroscopic surgery to do some cleanup on his right wrist on Monday.
Shildt said this was a good time to do it since Gyorko was already going to miss time with his injury. He said Gyorko's return to baseball activities would be 3-ish weeks. Gyorko had a setback earlier this week on his recovery from the back injury that put him on the IL when he hurt his left calf. When he would be back from that was uncertain, though it wasn't thought to be imminent.
"No structural damage, nothing compromised," Shildt said. "It's something to deal with. He's been getting shots for 2 1/2 or so years. ... The calf was going to be somewhat parallel with that time. The shots are working but they're masking something that needs to be corrected."
Game 2 of the Albert Pujols homecoming tour is Saturday at Busch Stadium, which started 15 minutes late because of the steady morning rains.
The only change in the Cardinals lineup is that Harrison Bader is out of the starting lineup, so Dexter Fowler is in center and Jose Martinez is in right. Shildt said Bader was fine.
1. Carpenter 3b
2. DeJong ss
3. Goldschmidt 1b
4. Ozuna lf
5. J. Martinez rf
6. Molina c
7. Fowler cf
8. Wong 2b
9. Hudson p
1. La Stella 2b
2. Trout cf
3. Upton lf
4. Calhoun rf
5. Pujols 1b
6. Fletcher 3b
7. Rengifo ss
8. Lucroy c
9. Ramirez p