Cardinals slugger Albert Pujols becomes fourth MLB player to hit 700 career home runs

In what may be a fitting capstone to a Hall of Fame career, Albert Pujols on Friday connected for his 700th home run as a major leaguer, a feat accomplished by only three other sluggers in baseball history.

The milestone homer – Pujols' second of the night – came in the fourth inning off Dodgers right-hander Phil Bickford, the latest of a record 458 different pitchers who've given up at least one round-tripper to Pujols over his 22 MLB seasons.

Pujols joins Barry Bonds (762), Henry Aaron (755) and Babe Ruth (714) in the 700-HR club, just 12 days after passing Alex Rodriguez (696) for fourth-place on the all-time home run list.

The Dodger Stadium crowd of 50,041 gave him a standing ovation when he came back out of the dugout to acknowledge the cheers for his historic blast. Chants of "Al-bert, Al-bert" came from fans behind the Cardinals' dugout. 

“It’s pretty special," Pujols said of reaching the milestone. "When it’s really going to hit me (is) when I’m done, at the end of the season and I’m retired. Probably a month or two after that look at the numbers. You know, don’t get me wrong. I know where my place stands in this game. ''

For him, Pujols said, playing baseball was never about "chasing numbers." But the numbers kept piling up.

The historic homer comes at the tail end of a late-career renaissance for Pujols, who returned to the St. Louis Cardinals this season at age 42 – after leaving as a free agent a decade earlier.

IN-DEPTH GRAPHIC: A look back at Albert Pujols' historic career 

It was in St. Louis where Pujols originally rose from a little-known 13th-round draft pick to superstardom that included three National League MVP awards and a pair of World Series titles in his first 11 seasons.

Albert Pujols smiles as he rounds the bases after hitting his 700th home run.

After signing a 10-year, $254 million free agent contract with the Los Angeles Angels, Pujols hit 222 home runs over the next 10 seasons -- plus 12 more in late 2021 after he was released by the Angels and signed by the Los Angeles Dodgers.

But back in the familiar confines of Busch Stadium and in a Cardinal uniform, Pujols has seemingly found the fountain of youth this year, posting his highest slugging percentage and OPS since he left St. Louis in 2011.

Pujols homered earlier in Friday's game off Dodgers starter Andrew Heaney, a two-run shot to left field that put the Cardinals up 2-0 in the top of the third inning. The home runs give Pujols 21 on the season.

The Cardinals went on to an 11-0 win. Pujols finished his historic night 2-for-4, the two home runs producing five RBI.

Before the game, after a tribute video for Pujols was played on the two scoreboards in the outfield at Dodger Stadium, fans gave Pujols a standing ovation. Given a chance to address the crowd before the game began, Pujols said: “Well, I just want to take this opportunity to thank all of you Dodgers fans.’’

After the game, Pujols sat in front of his six children in the Dodgers' interview room, a courtesy of the team he played for last season when he regained his joy for the game.

“What a special night,'' he said. "First of all, to have my family here in town, and to be able to do it here at Dodger Stadium.''

Contributing: Josh Peter in Los Angeles  

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Albert Pujols hits 700th career home run: Fourth man to join the club