Saturday, October 1, 2022

Albert Pujols chases 700 homers: Tracking the Cardinals legend’s pursuit of Alex Rodriguez, exclusive club

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The 42-year-old stoking excitement for a home run chase in 2022 last led MLB in long balls — and last won MVP — in 2009, when his St. Louis Cardinals made a splashy deadline trade for Matt Holliday, whose son was just the No. 1 pick in the July draft.

When Albert Pujols rejoined the Cardinals for a farewell tour in 2022, he was sitting on 679 career homers. He hadn’t been an above-average hitter in a season since 2016, couldn’t play the field and didn’t hit right-handers well enough to bat regularly for a team with playoff aspirations. But the too-cute-to-work reunion with the Cardinals has worked, because of course it has, and now he’s been a spark plug for the team’s rise to the top of the NL Central.

After belting two homers in a game against Arizona earlier in August weekend, the impossible-seeming run at 700 definitively turned into a real possibility.

It had seemed impossible because his trendline had long ago turned south.

CHICAGO, ILLINOIS - AUGUST 22: Albert Pujols #5 of the St. Louis Cardinals celebrates his solo home run during the seventh inning against the Chicago Cubs at Wrigley Field on August 22, 2022 in Chicago, Illinois. (Photo by Michael Reaves/Getty Images)

St. Louis’ Albert Pujols celebrates his solo home run during the seventh inning against the Chicago Cubs at Wrigley Field on Monday. (Photo by Michael Reaves/Getty Images)

We like to say who’s on pace for history, who’s got the trajectory of an all-time leader. But divide the all-time home run list into age brackets and you’ll see we’re fooling ourselves. The leaders through age 30 are Alex Rodriguez, Ken Griffey Jr., Jimmie Foxx and Pujols, who had a whopping 408 by the end of 2010. The leaders from age 31 on are Barry Bonds, Henry Aaron and Babe Ruth, the only members of the elusive 700-homer club Pujols is trying to join. They all hit more after 31 than before.

Pujols never had that sort of pace in his 30s. After notching 32 or more homers every year with the Cardinals, he managed it only once with the Angels (40 in 2015). For the latter part of his tenure with the Angels, the question of homer history was secondary to the question of how much longer he could stand to go out there. He struggled to run or play the field because of repeated foot and leg problems; the team kept disappointing; his batting line kept sinking. At one point his (less acclaimed) stature as a 100 WAR player slipped away because he was accumulating negative value.

But Pujols kept playing, seemingly finding a second wind with the Dodgers after parting ways with the Angels last year. Kept going up to bat and trying to tap into a little of the magic. And at least for now, he has found it. His eight homers in a scorching August are the most he’s hit in any month since June 2015 (when he hit 13). He’s batting over .400 since the All-Star break and winning at-bats against right-handers.

He needs two homers to tie, and three to pass Alex Rodriguez for fourth on the all-time homer list. With six more homers, he’d reach that star that seemed so unreachable. Already, though, he’s reclaimed our attention. A legend whose time had passed is once again the man of the hour.

Tracking Albert Pujols’ pursuit of 700 homers

Pujols is currently at 694. He hit the most recent one against the Reds on Monday night.

Predictably, it came against a left-hander. He’s now smashed 11 of his 15 homers in 2022 off southpaws. This one came off Ross Detwiler. In the process, Pujols set a new major league record by homering off the 450th different pitcher of his career, breaking a tie with Barry Bonds.

The next opportunity to face a left-handed starter will likely come Wednesday against the Reds’ Mike Minor. Pujols has faced him 23 times, but never homered. He’ll also get plenty of chances in front of the home fans early in September. The Cardinals play 14 of their first 17 September games in St. Louis.

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