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Ben Frederickson is a sports columnist for the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. You can follow him on Twitter (Ben_Fred), Instagram (benfredpd) and Facebook (BenFredPD).

SP CL CARDS PUJOLS SWING

Cardinals rookie Albert Pujols watches a fly ball during an early April game in 2001 at Coors Field in Denver. Post-Dispatch photo by Chris Lee

Update: Albert Pujols got his 2,996th career hit on a bloop single Sunday night against the Yankees. He needs four to become the 32nd member of MLB's 3,000-hit club.


Your list will be different.

That speaks to both the beauty of baseball and the stunning body of work required to produce 3,000 hits.

Albert Pujols is so close now. No. 5 entered Friday night’s game between his Angels and the Yankees with just six hits to go.

Angels fans and Cardinals fans will claim different favorites. Some of the big milestones are out there. The best memories? Right here.

But even if you limit the hits to the 2,073 Pujols cracked as a Cardinal, deciding the most memorable will stir debate. Just remember: Only regular-season hits count. You’re welcome, Brad Lidge.

I’ll take a swing.

HIT NO. 1

Official confirmation came from Colorado.

With Bobby Bonilla headed for the disabled list, a rookie third baseman and outfielder who took spring training by storm had made the 25-man roster to start the season.

“They told me I made the club,” Pujols told the Post-Dispatch before the Rockies hosted the Cardinals for the season opener April 2, 2001. “But I’ve still got to work hard to stay here the whole year.”

The former 13th-round draft pick could have been headed for a Class AA assignment when camp began. But he showed he could play five positions. And he hit .306 that spring.

“He’s unproven,” said Walt Jocketty, the general manager then. “But he’s certainly shown every indication he can compete at the major-league level. We’ll see what develops.”

Pujols started in left field and hit sixth, in between third baseman Placido Polanco and catcher Mike Matheny. Rockies starter and winning pitcher Mike Hampton held the Cardinals to just five hits in 8 1/3 innings.

One of those hits belonged to Pujols, who in the seventh inning smacked a ground ball past diving Rockies shortstop Neifi Perez.

Hampton tossed the baseball to the Cardinals’ dugout. A keepsake.

HIT NO. 3

This is the one John Mozeliak first mentioned when the president of baseball operations was asked which Pujols hits still stand out.

Hit number three turned into home run number one. The first of 445 as a Cardinal, a number that trails only Stan Musial’s 475.

“Against Armando Reynoso,” Mozeliak sent in a text message, no need to look it up.

The rookie was one for nine for his career entering the road game against the Diamondbacks on April 6, 2001. He singled in the second inning, then stepped back into the box with the Cardinals trailing 2-0 in the fourth. Ray Lankford stood on first.

It was a no-doubter.

“That ball is hammered,” broadcaster Thom Brennaman said the moment the 1-2 pitch left the bat. “We have a tie game.”

Pujols didn’t trot; he sprinted. Reynoso stared bullets through a rosin bag. He would have company soon.

“Some people may think that a guy as young as Pujols is would be very, very nervous,” Brennaman’s broadcast partner said. “He’s anything but that.”

Pujols totaled 197 hits and 37 home runs that season.

HIT NO. 586

He made history with this one, but there is an even better story behind it.

The 13th-inning. game-ending home run against Astros pitcher Dan Micelli that secured a 3-2 win against the division leaders on Sept. 20, 2003, marked the 114th home run of Pujols’ career. Just like that, he was tied with Hall of Famer Ralph Kiner for most homers in a player’s first three seasons.

“You’re talking about records that were sitting there for a long time,” Pujols said then. “It’s a blast.”

Imagine how it felt for Niki Cunningham.

Pujols became many things in St. Louis. Rookie of the year. Nine-time All-Star. Six-time Silver Slugger. Three-time National League MVP. Two-time World Series champion. Batting champion.

Don’t forget promise-keeper.

During a pregame ceremony that raised awareness about Down syndrome, Niki Cunningham threw out the ceremonial first pitch. Pujols, father to a daughter with Down syndrome, had gotten to know the Cunningham family. Niki Cunningham had requested a home run.

It arrived four hours and 13 minutes into a game that refused to end until Pujols made a special delivery.

HIT NO. 700

When the bad blood stirred, his bat burned.

An eventful final regular-season meeting between rivals at Wrigley Field on July 20, 2004, had included a near-fight earlier in the series and an exchange of words that game, after Cardinals starter Matt Morris threw a fastball behind Corey Patterson in the first frame.

Hackles were up, and so were the defending division champion Cubs. The Cardinals trailed 7-1 after the Cubs rocked them in the second inning.

Pujols had sent the Cardinals ahead with an RBI double in the first. His bat would lead them back.

“The best thing about Albert in a very long list of great things is that he plays the game to win,” Tony La Russa said that day.

Pujols cracked a solo homer in the third, singled and scored in the sixth, then led off the seventh inning with a first-pitch home run.

Perhaps you remember So Taguchi, he of 19 career home runs, tying the score 8-8 with a memorable home run in the eighth.

And then in the ninth, with Edgar Renteria on first, Pujols returned to the plate to face Cubs reliever LaTroy Hawkins. He watched a ball. He tried to execute a hit and run. The ball landed in the basket above Wrigley’s wall in right-center. This time the lead held.

Hakwins was ejected for arguing with the umpire. Reggie Sanders added an insurance homer to make it 11-8. Jason Isringhausen secured the save.

“It was the first time I’ve hit three home runs and it came at the right time,” Pujols said after he went five for five with five RBIs.

The first Cardinal since Mark McGwire to have a three-homer game went on to do it three more times after this. AP remains the only Cardinal to have a three-homer game at Wrigley Field. He did it there twice.

HIT NO. 1,966

He was the first Albert to do it since Albert.

Albert Belle became the 10th major leaguer to hit game-ending home runs in consecutive games, when the Cleveland slugger twice pulled the rug out from beneath Toronto in 1995.

Pujols did it to the Cubs, because of course. (Did I mention he hit .302/.405/.616 against the Cubs during his decade with the Cards?)

After the second of the two home runs Pujols hit against the Cubs on June 4, 2011, secured a 12th-inning, 5-4 win, the first baseman returned to Busch Stadium the next day and launched a Rodrigo Lopez fastball 446 feet to turn a leadoff at-bat in the 10th into a 3-2 win.

It was Pujols’ 10th game-ending homer of his career. And yes, he high-stepped as he headed toward the raucous crowd of teammates gathered at home plate. A crowd of 40,000 partied with him.

“It was almost like everybody knew it was going to happen,” teammate Ryan Theriot said then. “They were right.”

Cardinals fans knew by then that 3,000 hits would happen for Pujols. They hoped it would happen in St. Louis. That should not stop them from celebrating the achievement from afar.


A look at 13 of Pujols' memorable home runs