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Albert Pujols homers twice, reaches 700 for his career: 'I'm just thanking God'

Albert Pujols had gone 22 plate appearances since hitting career home run No. 698 when he stepped to the plate for the first time at Dodgers Stadium on Friday night. Three at-bats later, he had hit Nos. 699 and 700.

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The first longball came off Andrew Heaney, a no-doubter into the left-field bleachers to open the scoring in the third inning.

His 700th home run — a three-run shot off Phil Bickford — came one inning later.

The St. Louis Cardinals slugger joins Barry Bonds, Hank Aaron and Babe Ruth as the only players in MLB history to reach the milestone. Only he and Aaron have both 700 home runs and 3,000 hits in their careers.

Pujols — who hit 12 home runs in 85 games with the Dodgers last season — reflected on what it meant to hit No. 700 in front of his family and against a team that holds a special significance to him. As an outspoken Christian, he also gave glory to God.

“What a special night,” Pujols said. “To have my family in town and to do it at Dodger Stadium. I said it earlier, my joy, pretty much, of this game came back last year [while playing for the Dodgers] and being in the postseason. It’s pretty special with the Dodgers fans here, and I get both sides of this. [The Dodgers] get to enjoy this and I get to do it with a Cardinals uniform, which makes it even more special. I’m just thanking God.”

After circling the bases and high-fiving close friend Adrian Beltré in the seats behind home plate, Pujols disappeared down the tunnel to soak it all in. That’s when the magnitude of his accomplishment really started to hit him.

“Why [so much emotion]? Because of this, my beautiful family,” he told MLB.com. “After the Lord, this is who I play for. They’ve been walking through this journey and through the ups and downs, through the cries, the hurt and the injuries and knowing they have my back. Them being a part of this history means everything to me.”

Pujols had more lucrative offers from other teams following his productive stint with the Dodgers but chose to end his career where it began and return to St. Louis for one final season with longtime teammates Yadier Molina and Adam Wainwright. At the age of 42, Pujols is posting his highest batting average (.265) since 2016 and surpassed the 20-home run mark for the first time since 2019.

His 21 homers in 2022 are the most he’s hit since 2019 with the Angels, and much more than many anticipated he’d hit in his final year. Pujols has been especially good the past few months. After hitting .158 with no home runs in June, he hit .320 with three HRs in July, and then .361 with eight HRs in August. After Friday night, he’s hitting .250 with six home runs in September.

Skip Schumaker, a former teammate of Pujols’ who is now the Cardinals’ bench coach, talked about when it’s been like watching the three-time MVP close out his career in such impressive fashion during a recent appearance on the Sports Spectrum Podcast.

“It doesn’t make any sense to me of how he’s doing this,” Schumaker said. “I am the same age as him. I feel terrible. And he’s hitting home runs in the major leagues against young kids that nowadays are throwing every pitch 95 to 100 [mph]. And he’s catching up to it like it’s no big deal. And he’s the best hitter in the major leagues against left-handed pitching.”

Speaking at Christian Day in St. Louis in July, Pujols expressed his gratitude to be able to finish his career with the team that drafted him and where he won two World Series championships over 11 seasons prior to leaving to play for the Anaheim Angels in 2012.

“This is a great opportunity that God has given me to finish my career,” Pujols said. “This is where everything started for me. When [president John Mozeliak] called me and [manager Oliver Marmol], I couldn’t believe it. The next day I was signing and in a plane going down to spring training. Just excited to be here. Hopefully I’ll finish my career strong and win a championship for the city of St. Louis.”

Pujols went on to talk about how his faith is “everything” to him, sharing that he gave his life to God 21 years ago and experienced a complete life change. Now at 42 years old, even as he continues to add to his Hall of Fame career on the field, he said he hopes most of all that people see Christ through him.

“At the end of the day, we represent the King, and He loves us so much. That’s why He died on the cross — so we can have eternal life one day with Him. So that’s my focus every single day when I walk,” Pujols said at Christian Day. “I thank the Lord. I just try to come here and perform for you guys, but I know that I’m performing for Him first. He’s first in my life and everything that I try to do in this game is to glorify Him.”

Friday’s 11-0 win moved St. Louis to 89-63 on the year and brought the team closer to clinching a fourth straight trip to the postseason. Pujols reminded everyone after his historic night that he didn’t come back to the Cardinals to get to 700 home runs. He came back to win a third World Series.

“What I’m chasing right now is another ring,” he said. “That’s what I’m chasing for the city of St. Louis and for our fans and that’s why I signed back this year. Going back to St. Louis, I knew we were going to have a great ballclub and hopefully get the chance (to win a championship) and hopefully finish this chapter that I started 21 years ago.”

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