LOS ANGELES – Before Albert Pujols hit two home runs Friday night at Dodger Stadium, before he reached the historic milestone of 700 home runs, at one point in his hands was not a bat, but a microphone.
The game was about to start and Pujols, the St. Louis Cardinals slugger, was given a chance to address the crowd in a stadium where he played last season.
"Well,'' he said, "I just want to take this opportunity to thank all of you Dodgers fans.''
Simpleand sincere on a night Pujols became only the fourth major leaguer to hit 700 homers, joining the elite company of Barry Bonds (762), Hank Aaron (755) and Babe Ruth (714).
But the expression of thanks helped demonstrate why Pujols was wearing the appropriate jersey – he will forever be remembered as a Cardinal – and in the right place.
Dodger Stadium is where he recaptured his joy for the game.
700 CLUB: Pujols hits once-in-a-lifetime milestone
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Batting practice turned into a homecoming Friday, with Pujols enjoying the warm reception as he exchanged hugs with the likes of Dodgers president Stan Kasten, Dodgers great Manny Mota and Dodgers manager Dave Roberts, who stood alongside Andrew Friedman, president of baseball operations for the Dodgers.
“I remember the conversation that Andrew and I had with Albert and his agent, Danny (Lozano) and just kind of trying to figure out if this is going to be a fit and what was expected of him," Roberts said.
That conversation took place in May 2021, not long after Angeles Angels had released Pujols, who at 41 looked washed up while hitting.198 with five homers in 92 plate appearances.
In fact, Pujols said he considered retirement at the end of a largely disappointing stint with the Angels, who lured him from the Cardinals with a 10-year contract worth $240 million. In return, the Angels watched Pujols struggle at the plate and with injuries and the team made the postseason just once, getting swept by the Kansas City Royals in the 2014 AL Divisional Series.
But after getting dumped, Pujols suddenly had a new team.
“The Dodgers believed in me,’’ he said.
In 85 games, hit .254 with 12 home runs – a solid contribution. He also ended up in the postseason for only the second time since leaving the Cardinals, where he broke into the majors in 2001 and won two World Series rings and three MVP awards
Roberts, in a postgame session with the media, said. “I think you guys all saw that last year, how much joy he had. So for us to play a little bit of a part of it, to kind of given him a little resurgence is great.’’
Not only that, Pujols said, but his time with the Dodgers led to an opportunity to rejoin the Cardinals and finish his career – he will after this season – where it started.
He is adored in St. Louis and about 1,800 miles away, there was love in the air Friday night.
Before the game, the crowd of 50,041 gave Pujols a standing ovation. The fans cheered in the top of the third, when he belted home run No. 699, a two-run shot off of Dodgers starter pitcher Andrew Heaney that traveled 434 feet to the left-field pavilion.
The fans cheered louder in the top of the fourth, when Pujols hit home run No. 700, a three-run blast off of Dodgers reliever Phil Bickford that traveled 389 feet, again to left.
Pujols rounded the bases joyfully, knowing fans were celebrating in St. Louis and his home country, the Dominican Republic.
The reaction elsewhere was more complicated.
“At first I was upset that I gave up the home run,’’ said Bickford, who was on the Dodgers roster with Pujols last season.. “Then when the crowd reacted and seeing all the smiles, it was a very special moment for MLB, and Albert Pujols is also one of the most amazing people I’ve ever met.’’
After the game, Pujols sat in the interview room with his six children behind him.
“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.''
Pujols was asked what he was going to say to Bickford when he saw his former teammate.
“I’m just going to tell him, ‘Thank you for hanging that slider,’’ Pujols joked.
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Albert Pujols hits No. 700 in the perfect place – Dodger Stadium